It’s fair to say that 2016 was a year like no other.
In terms of change, the last year had it all: socially, politically and economically.
From the National Living Wage and the Apprenticeship Levy to Brexit and the US election, the events of the last 12 months are set to have a significant impact on both work and working lives.
On the one hand, Brexit has brought out the best in many Brits, igniting political debate and infusing a new spirit of togetherness among people with wildly different backgrounds.
But on the other, it has also brought out the worst in some – and this is where it could pose a risk for business owners.
In the workplace there have been a number of race-related harassment cases. Employers need to be aware of the risks arising from such harassment and, where possible, should try to address the risks.
Race-related comments which are deliberately intended to offend are likely to constitute unlawful harassment. Comments - such as innocently intended observations or shop floor “banter” - which weren’t intended to offend but still do so, are also harassment.
That’s because all that is required to make a claim of unlawful harassment is that someone must be offended or feel their dignity at work has been adversely effected.
What the Equality Act says is that unlawful racial harassment occurs where one employee engages in unwanted conduct related to race, nationality or national origin, and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating another employee’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
This is a serious issue.
For unlawful racial harassment at work, the employer is liable for an employee’s conduct and the victim has a valid claim against the company. Damages are also uncapped.
Putting in place strong guidance on the limits on discussions about the Brexit vote, or even prohibiting such discussions absolutely, may be a valid protective measure in some workplaces where the risk of causing offence is considered to be high.