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How can employers deal with racist acts outside work?

Following the news that a Savills employee allegedly posted a racist tweet, a legal expert has shared what action employers can take.

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News that estate agent Savills had suspended an employee over an alleged racist tweet has no doubt sparked questions over how employers and HR teams should deal with such an incident.

 

After England lost out in the final of the Euro 2020 tournament against Italy in a penalty shootout, an employee at the firm allegedly posted a racist tweet which prompted Savills to investigate after pressure mounted from members of the public.

 

Despite claiming that his account had been hacked, Savills suspended the employee, as a spokesperson for the firm said: “Savills has acted swiftly and confirms that the individual is suspended from duty pending the findings of this investigation, which is being progressed as a priority. Savills has a policy of zero tolerance on any form of racial abuse or discrimination,” reported the Mirror.

 

The employee has since been arrested in relation to the tweets.

 

How should employers respond to racist acts?

While this incident is being dealt with, it may be likely that something like this could happen again in the future due to the public nature of social media, therefore how should employers respond when racist acts such as this are committed by employees outside of working hours?

 

In comments sent to Reward Strategy by Andrew Crudge, employment Law solicitor at law firm Trethowans, he advised that when something like this is carried out outside of work hours, it is important for employers and HR teams to weigh up what impact it will have on the business when it comes to disciplining an employee.

 

“In such circumstances, employers may be able to discipline or dismiss the employee, but this will depend on the impact of the employee’s actions on the business, as well as the wording in the company’s disciplinary policy,” Crudge explained.

 

He noted that disciplinary action if more likely to be justified if the employee’s conduct outside of work brings the company into disrepute and could damage its reputation – something he said a “racist or other discriminatory conduct often will”.

 

With the case concerning Savills, the estate agent was facing growing demand to deal with the employee, as LinkedIn and Twitter users shared concerns for the estate agent’s business relationships and the firm’s reputation. “Similarly, if it has an impact on workplace or customer relationships, this can bring the conduct within the scope of employment,” the legal expert continued.

 

Having disciplinary policies

When situations like this arise, employers will be in a stronger position if their disciplinary policies explain what action can be taken if incidents occur outside of work that may be considered as misconduct, for example.

 

This raises the importance of having such a policy, and therefore should be something all HR teams look to implement, as without it, Crudge warned: “If there is no such policy wording, or if the incident has no direct impact upon the company’s reputation, an employee could potentially claim unfair dismissal if they are dismissed.”

 

Despite these factors, Crudge shared that while it is important for employers to act swiftly if an incident similar to that of Savills occurs, it “should not be at the expense of carrying out fair and reasonable investigation”.

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