Racism row | HR probe into black worker's sex life 'wouldn't have happened if she was white'

HR probe into black worker's sex life 'wouldn't have happened if she was white'

The treatment of a black woman, whose workplace assigned an "all-white" panel to investigate her private life, would not have happened if she was white, a tribunal has said.

As reported by The Guardian, Sonia Warner, a civil servant, was working for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office when bosses subjected her to a six-month long internal investigation.

It was alleged that she had formed “an intimate relationship with an employee of an organisation receiving UK government cash” while working in Nigeria as an anti-corruption adviser, The Guardian said.

As a result, she was accused of misconduct, for “failing to report a conflict of interest due to a relationship.”

The claims, which Warner denied, resulted in her receiving a final written warning from a panel of “all-white” colleagues, according to legal documents.

An employment tribunal has now found she was the victim of unconscious bias from senior colleagues who took charge of the investigation, and was subsequently “pushed away”, “disowned” or “othered” by coworkers.

The panel also stated that Warner’s treatment “would not have happened” if she had been a white civil servant.

“We have found that the claimant was treated with an unwarranted degree of suspicion, that unfair assumptions were made about her, that minds were closed, that she was treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, which took an unreasonably long time”, the tribunal reported.

“The explanations that we received from the respondent (FCDO) for this treatment were not just poor or unreasonable excuses. They simply did not adequately explain the degree of unfairness and unreasonableness in the treatment and we infer that the missing part of the explanation is the claimant’s race.

The report went on: “The claimant was ‘pushed away’, ‘disowned’ or ‘othered’ during the disciplinary process in a way that we consider would not have happened were she a white civil servant with equivalent length of service and experience”.

Read more from us

Following the ruling, Warner was reported by The Guardian as saying: “After 33 years of dedicated service I felt heartbroken and humiliated by the treatment I received from white colleagues who I trusted to act in a fair and impartial manner, regardless of my race.

“It has taken two years to be heard on this issue because conscious and unconscious bias is a real barrier to fairness and equality. This is a victory for racial justice, which I hope will lead to a stronger commitment to strengthening HR systems and processes to protect black staff.”

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are committed to being an inclusive employer for our 16,500 colleagues around the world. We don’t comment on individual cases.”

Ruling should encourage employers

Amanda Hodgson, a partner from the firm Fletcher Day, which represented Warner, said: “This is an important judgment, highlighting the subtleness of unconscious bias, which is very difficult to prove at trial. We are hopeful that the judgment will encourage employers to take a considered approach when disciplining employees in the workplace.”

Almost half of Black people have experienced racism at work

Whilst diversity and inclusion is a key part of HR’s remit, it appears that racism is still a vast issue within Britain’s workplaces, with almost half of Black respondents to a new survey stating that they’ve experienced it in some form at work, as reports The Independent.

The data, which was published in a report released this week by the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA), in partnership with the Lloyds Banking Group, also ascertained that 26% of East Asian workers and 23% of employees of South Asian heritage have experienced similar issues – along with 24% of mixed-race workers.

And, whilst the profile of worker wellbeing has been raised by the coronavirus pandemic, the data found that 56% of those employees who reported that racism has affected them within the workplace said that it has directly negatively impacted their mental health.

In fact, 60% of professionals across all ethnicities reported that the global pandemic has had a vastly negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing, with those from a Black or a minority ethnic background stating that it has made it more likely that they would suffer from racism whilst working.

Around one in six Black and South Asian respondents noted that they had a traumatic personal or family experience because of coronavirus, compared to six per cent of their white British counterparts.

As a result, 44% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers have felt they must change aspects of their behaviour to fit in at the office, compared to only a quarter of white British people, the research also highlighted.

Tackling workplace racism

For HR, tackling racism in the workplace is key. The Equality Act 2010 says that no one should be discriminated against because of their race.

A 2020 Forbes article shared several tips for tackling racial discrimination in the workplace.This included embedding anti-racism into your organisation's values, training and actions, spreading awareness by providing resources and educating individuals, tackling unconscious bias, among other things.


Have you enjoyed this piece?

Subscribe now to myGrapevine+ and get access to our comprehensive knowledge portal.

Comments (1)

  • Bettyann Paul
    Bettyann Paul
    Tue, 30 Nov 2021 1:24pm GMT

    How about writing something about racism within local council's and how they treat the Asian and black population who have worked hard and brought ex council houses, or are black tenants, how council employees are allowed to racial harassment of foreigners. How one council employee has cost that council thousands of pounds over the last 20 years?
    All we hear about is how black lives matter, cricketers racial abused, but nothing about local council’s and their employees getting away with it. Does these cases not matter?

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for the next 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.