HR Expert: Racist Culture within an Organisation

A departing employee has made a few comments to my client which has made them concerned that there may be a racist culture within their organisation. How should they address this?

It is not uncommon for staff that are leaving for pastures new to take a parting shot at the organisation. However, rather than dismiss any negative remarks your client is encouraged to investigate these further, especially when they allude to offensive or potentially discriminatory behaviour.

It is important that your client is proactive in this situation, even if the employee has only mentioned this in passing, by encouraging them to raise an official grievance. If the employee agrees then your client should investigate this thoroughly, continuing to do so even after the employee has officially left the business. If the investigation uncovers any racist behaviour, then your client should discipline responsible individuals in accordance with their workplace policy. Acting in this way will be looked on favourably by an employment tribunal should the employee attempt to raise a claim for race discrimination in the future.

Even if the employee opts against raising an official grievance your client may still decide to conduct their own investigation. One way to do this would be to arrange an employee engagement survey to see if the employee’s sentiment is shared by the wider workforce. Although these surveys are usually anonymous, asking staff questions such as ‘How inclusive you do believe the organisation is?’ could help uncover any underlying issues with racism that need to be addressed.

Workplace policies are generally in place to guide staff and provide employers with the framework to take action against those who fail to follow workplace rules. Therefore, one way of addressing an alleged racist culture would be to review and update existing policies to ensure they are fit for purpose. Your client should examine their policies on equality and harassment to ensure they are adequate, as well as running the rule over their grievance reporting procedure to ensure it remains both fair and reliable.

Another way to address concerns over a racist culture is to train staff on what constitutes unacceptable workplace behaviour. Your client is advised to make it a mandatory requirement for all staff to be trained on harassment, discrimination and unconscious bias when they join the business, with ‘refresher’ training also considered for those who are already employed.

Ultimately, your client should treat any remarks regarding racism with the utmost seriousness regardless of the situation, ensuring they take a committed and multifaceted approach to remove this from their workplace altogether.

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