The UK has voted to leave Europe and our new Prime Minister has pledged to stand by the people’s decision. As yet, we have little idea of when Theresa May might trigger Article 50 or what this action might mean for UK businesses and employment.
However, the government has issued a statement recognising the important contributions made by EU and other non-UK citizens who live, work and study in the UK, and confirming that when the decision to leave is made, that they “fully expect that the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK, and that of UK nationals living in the EU, will be properly protected.”
What we do know is that times are changing and we’d best be as prepared as possible for the challenges ahead.
For many of the estimated three million non-British EU citizens living in the UK, the vote to leave has proved unsettling. Many EU workers have no idea how their working status may be affected long term. This uncertainty can be compounded by feelings of mistrust following a reported rise in EU workers suffering racist abuse since the Brexit vote.
More than 300 hate crime incidents were reported to a national online portal during the week after Brexit – four times more than the weekly average, according to The National Police Chiefs’ Council. Whilst we know it is a small minority of individuals who are indulging in this nasty behaviour, it is vital that businesses are aware of this worrying Brexit side effect.
Obviously, any kind of discriminatory behaviour should not be tolerated in a work environment (or indeed anywhere else).
Businesses of all sizes must do everything in their power to ensure they have robust policies and practices in place to protect their staff and make sure that they are not breaking employment laws.
Most employers will be well aware that current staff and new recruits should never be discriminated against or treated differently because of their nationality – race discrimination is when you are treated unfairly because of your race, or because of the race of someone you are connected with, such as your partner. ‘Race’ includes colour, nationality, citizenship and ethnic or national origins and it is illegal, for example, when it comes to recruitment, training, redundancy or dismissal.
However, as an employer, it is not just your own work practices that are important; you are ultimately responsible for each and every employee on your payroll. Employers have a duty to protect employees from third party harassment, and it is important to be vigilant of any hostility towards anyone not seen as ‘typically’ British and to take any complaint seriously.
If employers fail to take reasonable steps to stop harassment, then they must accept responsibility for a work place contaminated with racial harassment.
Racial harassment takes many different forms but the result is the same – stress, health problems, loss of confidence and psychological and physical injury. It affects a person’s work and home life leaving them feeling isolated and afraid. From a business point of view, it can lead to lost work hours, low staff morale and deeply unpleasant employment tribunal hearings.
It may be that abusive staff are ignorant of the pain they are causing by what they believe is ‘harmless banter’ or the abuse might take a more sinister form of bullying, perhaps even turning physical.
Whatever the form of abuse, the results are damaging and employers need to take appropriate disciplinary action and staff training to ensure inappropriate behaviour ceases and that the complainant doesn’t fear retaliation for speaking out. Too often staff don’t complain, worrying about rocking the boat, being thought of as over sensitive, or of further reprisals.
Any small or medium business which does not have an HR department of its own can struggle with how best to deal with a hostile environment. We can advise businesses who don’t have a dedicated HR department on how to manage employment law and training issues.
Where Britain’s future in Europe lies remains to be seen, but whatever Brexit brings, basic moral principles survive and no-one should feel victimised at their place of work, whatever their race or beliefs.