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Tackling racist behaviour by employees

Written by Katie Maguire on Wednesday, 11 August 2021. Posted in HR, People

In the wake of the online racist abuse hurled at sporting stars, Katie Maguire, examines what employers should do tackle racism in the workplace.

Tackling racist behaviour by employees

In the wake of the online racist abuse hurled at sporting stars, Katie Maguire, examines what employers should do tackle racism in the workplace. 

One of the unhappiest memories from England’s recent run to the Euro football finals wasn’t just the penalty misses, but the online racial abuse of players that followed. Sadly, it wasn’t an isolated incident. Lewis Hamilton is now the latest sports star to be targeted following his British Grand Prix victory. 

The police are rightly taking this abuse very seriously. It is a crime, and arrests have been made. If found guilty, the perpetrators not only risk being banned from sporting grounds for life, but of losing their livelihoods too. 

Estate agency Savills found itself caught up in the furore when one of the racists tweets aimed at England footballers was traced back to one its employees. Savills immediately suspended the employee and launched a swift investigation. The employee has subsequently claimed his account was hacked and the matter is being investigated by the police. If found guilty, he could face the sack. 

And about a month ago, a man was sacked from his job following video footage on social media of him and his mates accosting England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.

It is of course difficult to police what your employees say and do online in their own private lives, but if such abuse becomes public and is traced back to one of your staff, it could cause untold reputational damage to your business. Employers of all sizes should be alive to the risks of employees using social media. It is very likely that your customers would view any form of harassment or abuse by your staff unfavourably. 

The obvious starting point for a business owner is to create a workplace culture that is free from discrimination and promotes equality and inclusion through training. This doesn’t need to cost the earth. The government’s Equality Advice & Support Service offers useful resources, as do other bodies such as ACAS and Citizens Advice.

Employees need to be clear on what standards of behaviour are required from them, both in and outside of work. They are often surprised to hear that they can be disciplined for activity that took place in their own time. I successfully defended a claim for unfair dismissal for one such client as the dismissal was found to be fair because the employee’s conduct, whilst outside of work, put the employer’s reputation at risk.

Some of my clients operate a zero-tolerance policy towards racism and discrimination and have dismissed employees for making racists posts on their personal social media accounts. What is your policy? 

You may say you have a zero tolerance policy to discrimination, but are your employees aware? It should be expressly stated in your workplace policies that any personal social media posts that risk bringing your company into disrepute will be a disciplinary matter. 

Recent events have thrown into sharp focus the need for employers to have guidelines on employee behaviour, especially when posting content online. Make sure you are prepared for the worst by creating the right culture and having the correct policies in place.

About the Author

Katie Maguire

Katie Maguire

Katie Maguire is an employment law partner at City law firm Devonshires. She regularly advises clients on a wide range of non-contentious and contentious employment issues, including defending complex employment tribunal claims for discrimination, victimisation, harassment, unfair dismissal, breach of contract, wrongful dismissal, and whistleblowing. Katie also specialises in pensions and has expertise in advising clients on many schemes

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