What was the case?

A recent tribunal decision has meant that an Operations Clerk who discovered a WhatsApp group dedicated to racially abusing her and another colleague has been awarded almost £25,000 for unlawful harassment on the grounds of sex, race and religious belief.

Abdi was employed as an evening Operations Clerk by Deltec from November 2017 until her resignation in September 2018.  Abdi is of black Somali origin who moved to the UK as a child and wears a hijab.  On 10 August 2018, there was a discussion in the office about white privilege between Abdi and some of her colleagues which developed into a “heated argument”.

Two colleagues made accusations that the majority of crimes are made by black people.  They attempted to find evidence on the internet and didn’t find any but continued to exert their opinion.  Abdi then used a colleague’s login details which was required in her role to access a computer and found a WhatsApp group chat which included her line manager and the colleagues involved in the argument.

The messages were highly offensive and threatening according to the Tribunal and referred to her as a terrorist and a postbox.  She complained but her line manager did not take the matter seriously, saying it was a he said/she said scenario.  She did not take her complaint to more senior management but did screenshot the group.

On 14 August she logged in again and the group name had been changed to “ALHAMDULLAH” with an icon of a black hijab and there were further racist messages about Abdi and another colleague.  These were sent to a senior member of staff who sent them to the Chief Executive.  The Chief Executive found the messages extremely inappropriate and offensive.  He moved Abdi and the other colleague out of the export office whilst he investigated but the Tribunal found this to be inadequate.  The line manager was given a final written warning, he had more than ten years’ service.  The other two members of staff were dismissed, they were in their probationary period.  The Chief Executive apologised and told her appropriate action had been taken.

The line manager and remaining members of staff in the WhatsApp group continued to come into her office and stare with ‘smirking faces’.  She resigned with immediate effect on 1 September 2018.

What were the tribunal’s findings?

That Abdi had suffered unlawful harassment on the grounds of sex, race and religious belief.

What does this mean for employers?

You should ensure that you do all you can to prevent harassment happening by ensuring:

  • Steps have been taken to prevent discrimination and harassment
  • A policy is in place for harassment
  • That training is carried out regularly ideally yearly.
  • You have a policy for using social media/groups at work
  • Complaints are dealt with seriously

This duty does not just cover employees but also workers, job applicants and contractors or the self-employed.