A certain amount of foul-mouthed banter is only to be expected in a robust working environment. As an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, however, employers who allow it to tip over into hostile and discriminatory abuse are likely to pay a high financial and reputational price.
The case concerned a white worker, aged in his early 50s, who was employed by a tyre recycling company. He worked as part of a small team in which white people were in a minority. He said that a younger black colleague had subjected him to verbal abuse, amongst other things referring to him as an old, white guy. He asserted that it was that abuse which led to him taking a period off sick with depression. He eventually resigned and launched ET proceedings.
Ruling on the matter, the ET acknowledged that it is possible for two men in a tough working environment to use abusive language to each other without any bad feeling. There is always a risk that such behaviour will tip over into bullying and aggression, however, and that is what had happened in this case. Although the man had himself used some bad language, he was essentially standing up for himself.
He had raised concerns about bullying with his boss, but nothing had been done beyond having a quiet word. There were indications that the boss had minimised his concerns and sided with the younger worker. In his resignation letter, the man said that the abuse had caused him stress, sleepless nights and loss of appetite. To maintain his own sanity, he felt that he could not return to work.
Upholding his harassment claim, the ET found that the age- and race-related abuse he endured created a hostile and intimidating working environment for him. In also ruling that he was constructively unfairly dismissed, the ET was satisfied that the harassment triggered his resignation. The company was ordered to pay him £7,486 for unfair dismissal and £14,541 in respect of discrimination, a total of £22,027.