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Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on the 25 May 2020, the world has seen protests, campaigning and millions of people taking to social media to raise awareness, share stories and show their support.

 

Many businesses across the globe have also released press statements or posted social media pledges to do more to support the BLM movement, be more inclusive and stamp out racism in their workplace.

 

Racism is still a problem in many UK workplaces. More than half of UK employees have witnessed racism at work but only 2 thirds would report it to their employer. Black people were the demographic most likely to experience racism at work with 69% witnessing or experiencing racism*.

 

All employers should be aware of their legal responsibilities when it comes to protecting their workforce from racism along with being inclusive when it comes to job opportunities, promotions and the treatment of all stakeholders in their business.

 

The Cost of Getting it Wrong

 

If a workplace fails to address racism then they could face a costly employment tribunal, face criminal action and severe damage to the company’s reputation and brand.

 

The CEO of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, has recently come under fire for comments he made on Twitter in relation to George Floyd, and whilst they may have been poorly judged posts, it has done significant damage to the company with brands such as Reebok cutting ties with the exercise franchise.

 

Even major brands with large legal teams have made mistakes when it comes to misunderstanding racism. In 2017 Kendall Jenner starred in a Pepsi advert that saw her smooth over confrontations with American police at what appears to be a protest about race with a cold can of soft drink.

 

Address All Areas of the Business

 

Employers need to fully understand that they are accountable for their actions across all areas of their business when it comes to racial discrimination and in some cases. From their recruitment process and management, through to their customer service, social media and advertising.

 

Companies set to lose out if they do not embrace a diverse workplace culture that incorporates the ideas, knowledge, input and experience of people from all different backgrounds.

 

A Reminder of the Law on Workplace Racism

 

In the UK, employees are legally protected from racial discrimination by the Equality Act 2010. Employers must not discriminate because of their race, colour, ethnic or national origin and nationality. These are all considered protected characteristics, along with age, sex, disability, gender reassignment, religion/beliefs, marital status, sexual orientation and pregnancy/maternity.

 

Discrimination includes direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation, harassment, discrimination by association.

 

Employers can be viable for the actions of their workers if they do not take reasonable steps to avoid discrimination from taking place and workers can find themselves personally liable for their discriminatory actions in the course of employment.

 

What Can You do as an Employer

 
  • Review your policies, procedures, and handbooks to ensure that you are not discriminating against race in any of your HR tools and to ensure that they are robust, explicit and adhered to.
 
  • Foster an inclusive workplace culture where employees feel comfortable talking about race and coming forward if they witness or are victim to racism.
 
  • Ensure that any grievances or complaints made in relation to race are dealt with promptly and in compliance with your procedures.
 
  • Be aware of unconscious bias – there are some interesting studies and online tests that you can take to make you aware of the affect having unconscious bias can have.
 
  • Ensure all workers have the right training in order to prevent racist behaviour from occurring in the workplace and that managers and properly trained to understand different cultural backgrounds, identify racism no matter how subtle, apply a zero tolerance policy and deal with it swiftly and appropriately.
 
  • Check that your recruitment, interview and promotion processes are inclusive and, where appropriate, consider positive discrimination to assist the progression of under-represented groups.
 
  • Ensure that your workforce know how to conduct themselves in the workplace and understand that there is a zero tolerance for racism.
 
  • Lay a solid foundation with an anti-racism policy and make sure it is adhered to by all.
 
  • Stamp out so called ‘banter’ in the workplace that can cause offence to anyone.
 
  • Consider forming a diversity and inclusivity board or program.
 
  • Ensure you provide equal opportunities to your employees of all different ethnicities and backgrounds.
 
  • Be sensitive to the current movement and media coverage, understanding how some of your workforce may be affected. Consider if you can support employees who wish to take time off work to join protests.
 
  • Consider if you can use your platform or brand to help support the BLM movement or support your local community. Look within before speaking out – ensure that your company truly stands by any claims that you make under your brand.
 

Legal Support

 

Prevention is always better than cure, so it is vital to get your workplace procedures and culture right in order to safeguard your business.

 

If you need support to get you up to speed and sense check your workplace policies, then please get in touch with our employment law specialists at Lamb Brooks. Should you find yourself needing legal support with a claim being made against you, then we are also here to help you navigate the stressful and daunting process of employment tribunals.

 

Following the increased media coverage and onus on employers to protect their staff, we are also able to offer management training in order to give a more detailed overview of your legal responsibilities on discrimination and race. These can be tailored sessions via Zoom or something to consider holding in your workplace once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

 

For more information or assistance please contact Karen Bristow, Head of Employment Law on 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant.

 

*People Management Survey March 2018.

 

Other articles you may be interested in reading:

Back to Work: Preparing Your Workplace & Staff

Mental Health Awareness Week: Employers Duties

Employment Law Changes for 2020

   

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.