I remember the classic Eddie Murphy movie, Trading places. The concept of institutionalised racism is more than subtle but if you listen carefully to the dialogue that is said or even motioned behind closed walls, then one can realise how it emerges. In law, there are four recognised forms of discrimination: Direct discrimination
For example, where a particular job is only open to people of a specific racial group.
For example, working practices that disadvantage members of any group.
Participating in, allowing or encouraging behaviour that offends someone or creates a hostile atmosphere.
In terms of the recent UK celebrity big brother episode(s) a pack mentality emerged with each member of the pack urges each other on.
Treating someone less favourably because they’ve complained or been involved in a complaint about racial discrimination.
If the racism is coming from your colleagues, rather than your boss, your employer is still legally liable. They are responsible for ensuring that there is no racism in the workplace – legally this is called ‘vicarious liability’. The employer can only avoid taking the blame if they can prove that they have taken practical steps to prevent discrimination and they should take disciplinary action against anyone guilty of racist behaviour.
However, individual employees can also be held legally responsible. An employee who knowingly discriminates against another employee or applicant on the grounds of race, or who aids discriminatory practices, is acting illegally. The UK Commission for Racial Equality’s Code of Practice states that employees have a duty to comply with measures introduced by their employer to ensure equality of opportunity and non-discrimination.
It is important to be clear in your own mind about what you see as discrimination and, if necessary, give examples in writing. Many employers have an equal opportunities policy, and you should ask to see a copy of this. If your employer doesn’t want to assist, you may need to make a complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure. You should not be victimised for complaining as this would count as discrimination.
If this still doesn’t work, you can make a claim of race discrimination to an employment tribunal. You could get in touch with the Commission for Racial Equality or your local Racial Equality Council, if there is one, for advice.
Bullying at work
Referring back the example we saw some weeks back, the pack mentality created so much stress that unfortunately no one emerged as a hero to challenge and put a firm stop to it.
Currently, in the workplace you cannot make a legal claim directly about bullying. However, if you are forced to resign due to bullying you can make a constructive dismissal claim. If you are being picked on at work and it has made your time at work so unbearable that you cannot stay any longer, you should get legal advice before leaving your job as it’s often very hard to prove that your employer’s behaviour was so bad as to make you leave.
If talking to your employer or mediation doesn’t work, and you feel that you need to resign, you should first get legal advice to see if you’ll have a case for constructive dismissal. Ideally, you should then leave immediately otherwise your employer may argue that, by staying, you’ve accepted the conduct or treatment. Also, avoid resigning before the actual breach of contract occurs, as your employer may then claim that there’s been no dismissal.
In both racism and bullying circumstances, it isa difficult and painful process to take your employer to an employment tribunal. It’s therefore in your best interests to speak informally to your employer before taking any other action.
The urgent need for a Proactive strategy and stance
What we really need is a clear statement that any form of racism is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We need continuous campaigns to educate people about the old adage of ‘strength in diversity’. In addition, mutual respect and a sense of decency when approaching people of different backgrounds/cultures. A proactive strategy must not only exist for schools but also the workplace. In the workplace, an equal opportunities policy should be more than a document, it should ‘live’ and ‘breath’ through continuous references to positive examples of its benefit of existing in the first place.