Corporate responsibility and tackling racist abuse at work

Mike James of discusses the role and responsibility of employers in dealing with racially abusive employees.

The increase in race-hate incidents since the Brexit vote is a worrying trend. A report by the BBC last year illustrated a 41% increase in incidents of racist or religious abuse incidents in the month following the referendum compared to the same month the previous year.

Britain enjoys an increasingly diverse workforce, with many migrant workers contributing to the success of British businesses.

Given the increase in race hate incidents, there is an increasing pressure on employers to ensure issues of racial tension and discrimination don’t creep into the workplace. Harassment in the workplace is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 and businesses are under pressure like never before to make sure its policies protect staff from racial abuse.

Racism and harassment are disruptive behaviours that limit productivity, performance and profitability. So, what can employers do to stave off racial abuse in the working environment?

Race discrimination: understanding the law in the workplace

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees, job seekers and trainees because of race. There are 4 main types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination – treating someone less favourably because of their race or association with someone else of another race.
  • Indirect discrimination – when your workplace policies or practices apply to everyone but are of particular disadvantage to people of a particular race.
  • Harassment – when unwanted conduct relating to race causes violation of an individual’s dignity.
  • Victimisation – unfair treatment towards an employee who has made a complaint about discrimination.

It is up to employers to make sure they adhere to the letters of the law.

Company policy

It should be clearly set out in your company policy and employee handbook that racial abuse will not be tolerated. The disciplinary procedures for such incidents should also be substantiated. Company policies to prevent racial discrimination should cover:

  • Recruitment
  • Pay, employment terms and conditions
  • Training and development
  • Opportunities for promotion
  • Discipline and grievances
  • Dealing with harassment
  • Employee dismissal

Ultimately, your workplace should adopt a zero tolerance policy towards racism to minimise any incidents of discrimination.


As an employer you have a responsibility to intervene if you hear your employees expressing or acting out racist views.

Disciplinary procedures

If informal negotiations have been unsuccessful in resolving an issue of racial abuse, you will need clear guidelines for a formal procedure. These will need to be fair and consistent. Your disciplinary procedures should involve a statement in writing, a meeting to discuss the situation, and the right of appeal.

The Advisory Conciliation Arbitration Service (Acas) strongly advises employers and employees to start talking to each other long before the dismissal stage. They suggest counselling or working out an improvement target for employee performance. Disciplinary procedures are an aid to effective management and should be used as a means for negotiation and resolution, not as a primary means of imposing sanctions.

An open door policy

Encouraging employees to talk openly about their experience at work is key if you want to prevent an incident escalating. Nipping any problems in the bud is essential for the smooth-running of your business. Remember at all times, racial abuse, even when apparently said ‘in jest’, is a serious matter.

Take reasonable steps to investigate claims of racial abuse

You have a duty of care to your employees. If there are any complaints regarding racial abuse, you have a responsibility to investigate those claims. You also have a responsibility to the person who has been accused of race discrimination. They must also be dealt with fairly.

Training about discrimination law and different cultural backgrounds

Increasing knowledge about diverse population groups is the best way to improve workplace awareness about racial discrimination. Structured training on what is expected of employees in terms of racial abuse, harassment and discrimination will help to foster a sense of mutual respect. When your employees know you have a disapproval of discriminatory behaviour, the tone is set.

Improve team spirit

Fostering team spirit and a sense of respect between staff members is by the far the best approach. Creating a sense of awareness about differences and similarities between team members and how everyone is contributing to the success of the business is an approach that supports diversity.

Develop a recruitment strategy that promotes workplace diversity

A recruitment strategy that promotes diversity in the workplace is an effective way to improve attitudes about employees from different races and cultures. Increase the diversity of places you make job postings. Recruiting from a more diverse pool of qualified applicants will help to reduce workplace bias.

When all else fails, be prepared to involve the police if necessary

Always remember that race hate is a serious and criminal offence. If you aren’t able to resolve an issue in the workplace, despite disciplinary action having been taken, you may need to terminate the employment of the person persisting in racially abusive behaviour. You may also deem it necessary to report the incidences to the Police.

With racially abusive incidents on the rise, employers need to be more determined than ever to create harmonious working environments. Promoting equality, diversity and fairness should be at the heart of ethical business.

Author: Editorial Team

Share This Post On