'Toxic environment' | Bank boss had 'no Muslims or Black Africans' hiring policy, tribunal hears

Bank boss had 'no Muslims or Black Africans' hiring policy, tribunal hears

A bank worker was sacked after allegedly making a series of racial slurs in the workplace, including claims that she had a policy of not recruiting "Muslims or Black Africans", The Times has reported.

Jennifer Macleod was dismissed from her role as a project manager with Bank of Scotland after complaints were raised about her making derogatory remarks about ethnic minority employees.

Macleod, who had worked for the bank since 1991, strongly denied the claims and took the firm to an employment tribunal on the grounds of unfair dismissal – but a judge upheld the sacking, finding that the allegations were “sufficiently clear and detailed”.

According to legal documents submitted as part of the appeal, Macleod was said to have accused a colleague of hiring “thick Black Africans just to make himself look smart”.

It was also alleged that Macleod said she had a policy of “No Muslims and no Black Africans” when recruiting for her team.

Further accusations were that she had created a “toxic environment” rife with bullying and racial slurs, and that she instructed team leaders to “manipulate the scores of candidates interviewed for positions” so that “no black African candidates would secure a role, and that the scores of Muslim candidates would be 'fixed' (i.e., revised downwards) to create the impression of a racially diverse set of interviewees, but at the same time ensure they did not secure a role.”

The judge, Brian Campbell, ruled that Macleod had “breached the standard of professional integrity... by using the racially derogatory language... to two team members.”

“She did not 'behave in a professional, responsible and appropriate manner towards other colleagues' and she used discrimination.”

Racism in the workplace

A 2021 study found that almost half of Black workers in Britain have experienced racism in some form at work, as reported by The Independent.

The data, which was published in a report 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.

How can HR tackle racism at work?

This case puts the spotlight on key issues HR should be aware of in the workplace, foremost being the issue of racial discrimination. Data from D&I training providers Pearn Kandola shows that 14% of White people have experienced racism in the workplace, compared to 60% of Black people and 42% Asian people. A fifth (20%) of all respondents who said they’d experienced racism said they’d encountered verbal or physical racial abuse.

On the firm’s website, Senior Partner Binna Kandola wrote: “In the modern workplace, racism is widespread, subtle and often ignored. This is a statement that many people may question - however, this report provides a solid basis of evidence for these claims.”

He added: “It is a common misconception that racism is limited to acts of verbal and physical abuse, meaning that when these explicit behaviours aren’t present, the majority group may assume that all races are treated equally at work.”

Donald MacKinnon, Group Legal Director at employment law and HR support firm WorkNest, told HR Grapevine: "About the worst thing an employer can do in these situations is to ignore complaints of harassment or other claims of discriminatory behaviour.

"Under UK Equalities legislation, a company is vicariously liable for the behaviour of its staff towards one another, with the result that both the harasser and the employer can be held responsible, with the potential for hefty awards. Even if the complaints are subsequently found to be groundless, a failure to investigate itself could lead to an adverse finding of discrimination, or indeed victimisation if the complainer is subjected to a later detriment by the employer or co-workers."

MacKinnon concluded: "When faced with allegations of discrimination or harassment, an employer would be well-advised to conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate remedial action to address any concerns uncovered during the course of it.”

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