Racial Harassment: When an interactive training exercise results in racial abuse

Racial connotations used by the trainer and three other attendees left claimant extremely offended and uncomfortable 

An employment tribunal has held than an employee was subjected to racial harassment at an equality, diversity training exercise in which participants were encouraged to shout out offensive words.

Ms Georges was recruited as a cleaner for the housing association and attended an equality and diversity course with 15 other employees. The facilitator was part of the learning and development team and had been in the position for around 8 years. During the training the facilitator wrote the words “n***r” and “paki” on a flip chart and then asked delegates to shout out the most inappropriate words they could think of.

The claimant was the only black person on the course and was left in shock and as a result was signed off by her GP. She subsequently raised a grievance which was rejected by the employer as they stated the exercise was to demonstrate that discriminatory language could cause offence. Ms Georges brought a claim of racial harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) accepted that the purpose of the training was appropriate and that the employer had taken protective measures to try and ensure the training was carried out sensitively. However, in the circumstances the method of delivery was risky strategy and it was entirely reasonable for the claimant to be offended by the encouragement of the use of a ‘deeply loaded and offensive word with distressing racial connotations” in an environment which they were obliged to be there.

Overall the ET concluded that the training was conducted insensitively, and it was not reasonable for the respondent to encourage people to shout offensive words and therefore the respondent was harassed the claimant on racial grounds. The ET upheld the racial harassment claim and ordered a remedy hearing.

This case highlights that considerations need to be given when completing any training within the workplace especially when using interactive exercises in such matters of Equality and diversity. Facilitators need to consider the format and that although practical exercises can be useful it is not appropriate for employers to encourage employees to use inoffensive words during any training exercise.

(Georges v Pobl Group Ltd)

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