Racial abuse, football and social media. How can employers tackle race discrimination?

The aftermath of the UEFA Euro football final last month, which saw England lose on penalties, resulted in a backlash of online racial abuse directed at a number of the England players. UEFA and others quite rightly condemned the “disgusting racist abuse”.

One well known estate agency firm is reported to have promptly suspended a manager for allegedly posting a racist comment on Twitter following England’s defeat. Greater Manchester police and the Metropolitan police are said to be further investigating the matter following accusations that the individual’s account was hacked, but this goes to show that unacceptable behaviour out of the workplace can have wider implications on employee’s employment.

Racial abuse and discrimination are not acceptable online or offline. Both the Government and social media platforms have been scrutinized for not doing enough to tackle this issue, but what can employers do to try to ensure that employees are not subject to racial abuse or race discrimination in the workplace?

Role as an Employer

Employers have a role to play in helping to stamp out racism in society, and should look to adopt an inclusive environment and take active steps to tackle the issue. All line managers in the workplace can and should play a vital role in helping to address discrimination in the workplace.

There are many ways in which organisations can actively reduce racial discrimination and adopt a more inclusive workforce. Outlined below are just some of many recommendations from a variety of sources, including a 2017 independent report published by the Government on Race in the workplace, that employers should consider:

  1. Analyse and monitor data – Identify existing levels of ethnic diversity and use this data to assess whether there are any workplace inequalities. Encourage employees to disclose and report, explaining why data will help improve diversity.
  2. Increase diversity and inclusion – Look to attract a wider, more diverse talent pool. This may require a review of both recruitment processes and selection processes for promotion. This can include having diverse interview panels and challenging inequalities, such as school and university selection bias.
  3. Training is essential – Introduce more training, focusing specifically on race discrimination and including unconscious bias in the workplace, and ensure training is mandatory at all levels, specifically senior management and those involved in recruitment.
  4. Look at policies and procedures in place – Ensure these policies address and promote diversity and then assess whether this is reflected in practice.
  5. Encourage reporting – Ensure that employees are trained to spot, report and tackle racial harassment and bullying in the workplace.
  6. Promote inclusive networks and mentoring – Establish inclusive networks and encourage individuals to participate. Put in place mentoring programmes, including both traditional and reverse mentoring, whereby senior management are mentored by individuals from different backgrounds to understand the challenges they face.

In addition to tackling inequalities, a workforce that is diverse and inclusive will not only harbour a positive work environment, but will also drive innovation and business performance. CIPD has a number of useful online guides detailing advice and tips for tackling racism in the workplace: https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/tackling-racism-workplace.

Legal claims for race discrimination

Under the legal framework prohibiting discrimination, the Equality Act 2010, race is a “protected characteristic” and the definition includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. The Act specifically prohibits direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace on the grounds of race.

Any employee can bring a claim for race discrimination at work, and both the perpetrator and the employer can be held liable for such discrimination. It is therefore important that organisations adopt a strict approach to addressing discrimination in the workplace.

Action against employees

Businesses finding themselves in situations whereby employees have been found to have posted abusive comments on social media further risk significant reputational damage by reason of the actions of their employee. The employee in question risks and faces action by the employer for such conduct, even where they considered it to be outside of the workplace.

In general, employers may have grounds to fairly dismiss an employee for misconduct outside of the workplace, where there are grounds to show that it has impacted upon the employment relationship by, for example, causing reputational damage. However, whether the conduct is linked to employment and justifies dismissal under unfair dismissal principles does depend on the particular facts. To be in the best position in these cases, employers should give clear information to employees about corporate image and expectations regarding use of social media via policies and communications.

Comment

Racial abuse and discrimination has been very prevalent in the media, with the Black Lives Matter movement playing a big role. The racial abuse received by the England football players in the aftermath of the Euros has brought this issue into the public eye again. It is clear that racial abuse and discrimination must continue to be tackled, and employers have a responsibility and indeed legal obligations to prevent such behaviour and take appropriate action where an employee acts inappropriately.

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