Racial harassment claim following inappropriate training

A cleaner has won a claim for racial harassment after participating in an equality and diversity training course featuring racial slurs which left her “deeply offended and uncomfortable”.

The Employment Tribunal ruled unanimously in favour of the employee after it found that her employer held a course in which the use of racial slang amounted to racial harassment. It was reasonable for the employee to have been offended by the training, and it was not reasonable for her employer to encourage people to shout out offensive words and introduce racially offensive terms without any explanation.

The employee worked as a cleaner and as part of her induction, she attended equality and diversity training. The trainer wrote the ‘N-word’ in full on a flipchart, and it was then repeated three times by other colleagues in the context of a training session on discriminatory words. Delegates were encouraged to “shout out the most derogatory and offensive words that they could think of”. 

Th employee told the tribunal that she was in a “state of shock” and she lodged a complaint with the HR department about the training session, and was signed off sick with stress. The complaint was investigated but the grievance was not upheld.

The findings suggested that the intention of the training was to highlight that using discriminatory language in any context could potentially cause offence, and that by discussing this language openly “in a very controlled environment”, the intended purpose would be achieved. 

The Judge said: “It was not reasonable to expect people to shout out full discriminatory words in a group context, even in circumstances where they had been given a ‘trigger warning’.”

Training should always focus on the impact of language on individuals rather than why words may be offensive in general.Using case studies and asking delegates to think of why scenarios were likely to be offensive can help to generate conversation around people’s perceptions of events and the meaning of words, without using racially offensive words.

121 HR Solutions is skilled in providing training in a variety of subjects, in a sensitive and controlled way. Information can be found at events@121hrsolutions.co.uk

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