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How do you tackle hate and discrimination at work?

Published 03 July 2023


The revelation a large and once highly respected organisation had a culture of racism, sexism and class-based discrimination serves as a reminder of the ongoing battle to tackle unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.

 The culture that existed and was exposed in English and Wales Cricket is not the first time, and is unlikely to be the last, such a high profile and revered institution is rocked by such a scandal.

 We have seen in recent years the revealing of ‘disgraceful’ misogyny, discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment within the ranks of the Metropolitan Police [1 cited 3.7.23]

 While earlier this year, inspectors found evidence of bullying, harassment and discrimination in every fire and rescue service in England [2 cited 3.7.23]

 All employers, whatever the size of the organisation, have a legal duty to provide a safe workplace and to protect its employees from bullying, harassment and discrimination.

 Such treatment can have extremely harmful and negative effects on the health, safety and welfare of employees, and can also lead to legal action against an employer.

 Employers should have established policies and procedures in place to prevent and handle such issues, and to support all employees

 The recently published and long-awaited report by The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) found racism, sexism, classism and elitism are ‘widespread’ in English and Welsh cricket [3 cited 3.7.23]

 The ICEC delivered its findings from a two-year investigation and it made 44 recommendations, including that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) makes an unreserved public apology for its failings.

 In a damning 317-page report called Holding Up A Mirror To Cricket, the ICEC concluded that:

  • "Structural and institutional racism" continues to exist within the game.
  • Women are treated as "subordinate" to men at all levels of the sport.
  • There is a prevalence of "elitism and class-based discrimination" in cricket.
  • Black cricket has been failed and the ECB must develop a plan to revive it.
  • Many who experience discrimination do not report it because of a distrust in the authorities.
  • Umpires regularly ignore abuse and dismiss complaints in both the professional and recreational games.

Cricket is often called a gentleman’s game because it originated in England among the aristocrats who played it with a sense of fair play, honesty and composure.

 But in recent times the sport has been rocked by the type of appalling conduct uncovered in the ICEC report.

 Three years after Azeem Rafiq first brought his allegations to Yorkshire Cricket Club, it admitted that he had been a victim of ‘racial harassment and bullying’ while he was a player at the county [4 cited 4.7.23]

 While a damning review of Scottish cricket found that its governing body failed on almost all tests of institutional racism [5 cited 4.7.23]

 The fact large organisations with a wealth of resources at their disposal have been unable to prevent discrimination and bullying, means those running smaller enterprises are justified in asking: ‘Well what can I do, if they cannot stop it?’

 Any employer, regardless of its size, has to prevent discrimination and bullying in the workplace.

An employer can be found liable for any discrimination or harassment that occurs in the course of employment, unless it can demonstrate it took all reasonable steps to prevent it.

There are several practical steps that all employers can take to prevent discrimination and bullying in the workplace.

  1. Educate all staff and ensure they are fully aware about discrimination and the consequences of mistreating a colleague, or anyone for that matter, based on a protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 e.g. race, age, sex or religion [6 cited 3.7.23].

Make sure they understand what constitutes discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Have an up-to-date equality policy and provide regular anti-discrimination training to staff and managers.

Something all employers can do, is hold regular one-to-one catch-ups between employees and their line managers to help build positive working relationships and to create a space in which an employee is likely to feel comfortable to raise any concerns or seek advice on how best to do so.

Also ensure all members of staff are aware of how to raise any complaints, and of what to expect if they do so.


2. Encourage workers to respect each other’s differences and promote a positive and inclusive work culture.

Employers can support employees to respect each other’s differences by making it a continuous process, hiring senior staff who understand the importance of those values, being open minded, creating a working environment in which employees feel comfortable expressing themselves, team building activities, encouraging constructive discussions about diversity and creating a safe and accommodating space for people’s beliefs.


  1. Take any complaint seriously. Failure to deal with any complaint of discrimination or bullying from an employee can have serious and costly consequences for an employer. Especially if it is a complaint that includes discrimination, which is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

A bank worker who was run over by a car on her first day in a new job and left disabled was awarded more than £4.7m after being made to feel ‘worthless’ and ‘unsupported’ by her colleagues [7 cited 3.7.23]

The employee was reported to have made more than 60 allegations of harassment and disability discrimination covering the entirety of her six-year period of employment, including being shouted at and being called ‘stupid’ at work.

Employers have a responsibility to prevent and stop discrimination and bullying at work.

All allegations should be investigated thoroughly and fairly.

ACAS provide a comprehensive guide on how to handle a bullying, harassment or discrimination complaint at work [8 cited 3.7.23].

It provides advice and comprehensive guidance on

  • Understanding bullying, harassment and discrimination
  • How to approach a bullying, harassment, discrimination or victimisation complaint
  • Dealing with a complaint informally
  • Dealing with a complaint formally
  • When harassment at work could be a crime
  • After you've dealt with a bullying, harassment or discrimination complaint.


  1. Respond to any evidence or complaints of bullying, harassment, discrimination or any type of inappropriate behaviour without unreasonable delay and confidentially.

Provide support and protection to the complainant, affected employees and witnesses.

Where any wrongdoing is identified, take appropriate action against the perpetrators.

It is important to follow up with the parties involved to ensure the issue is resolved and prevent any recurrence.


  1. After dealing with a complaint always to look at what has been learnt from it, what can be done to prevent further problems and consider if any action is needed.

Some possible actions are:

  • Giving line managers specific training on how to deal with issues like sexual harassment or unconscious bias.
  • Educating all staff on how to recognise and report unacceptable behaviour.
  • Updating your organisation’s policies, for example your policy on bullying and harassment.
  • Informing employees about the support they can get if they face or witness unacceptable behaviour at work.


  1. Develop a workplace policy that makes clear all forms of bullying, discrimination and inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated.

The policy should detail the procedures and rules for dealing with any complaints.

It is essential that all employees are aware of the policy and that it is communicated to them, and they know how to access it.

Employment law is constantly changing and being updated, so any policy should be regularly reviewed to ensure it complies with the law and reflects best practice.

Enforce the policy and do so consistently and fairly.


  1. Lead from the front and set clear expectations for employee behaviour and model them yourself as an employer.

Demonstrate respect, fairness and professionalism in all interactions with staff and customers.

Always avoid any actions that could be seen as favouritism, bias or retaliation.

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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