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An employment tribunal has confirmed that accusing a colleague of ‘playing the race card’ amounts to race discrimination.



The black employee (a soldier) was prevented from entering their barracks whilst wearing civilian clothing as the guard didn’t believe at first that they were in fact a soldier. The employee complained and was accused by the guard and their superior officer of ‘playing the race card’ and turning the incident “into a racial thing”. Mediation was scheduled, however, no one attended and the employee was instead subject to a disciplinary process, leading to a fine and an entry of insubordination on his service record.

The employee’s claim for race discrimination was upheld by the employment tribunal.

Practical takeaways

Comparator – the accusations of “playing the race card” made clear that the employee’s race was at the forefront of the guard’s mind and the reason for their actions. The tribunal stated that it was “inconceivable” that these accusations would have been made to a white employee.

A thorough investigation – any accusation of discriminatory behaviour should be followed swiftly with a thorough and unbiased investigation. In this instance, the employee tried to explore mediation to resolve the situation but was met with a one-sided disciplinary process and no investigation.

Zero-tolerance – taking a zero-tolerance approach to racism or any other non-inclusive behaviour sends a strong cultural message of the organisation’s expectations. A separate Employment Appeal Tribunal has recently upheld that zero-tolerance is a reasonable response (assuming a fair process has been followed) when dealing with allegations of racism.

As always, securing straight-talking advice early is your best bet if you’re unsure how to tackle non-inclusive behaviours and reduce potential litigation risks. Get in touch.

This update is accurate on the date it was published but may be subject to change which may or may not be notified to you. This update is not to be taken as advice and you should seek advice if anything contained within affects you or your business.

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