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Employers should protect against Brexit abuses in the workplace

Posted: 22nd September 2016   In: Business Employment, Individual Employment

Employers may wish to reconsider their strategies for avoiding workplace bullying and abuse following the referendum vote to leave the EU.

There have several examples across the country of workers being subjected to name calling and harassment because of the way they voted, and there have been separate incidents of ethnic minorities being abused for “still being in the country”.

Such incidents could lead to employers facing legal claims relating to issues such as discrimination and harassment.

Heather Rolfe, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, told the Financial Times that there was a marked increase in racist and xenophobic incidents following the referendum, including some within the workplace.

Ms Rolfe spoke to 17 employers after the vote. Several reported instances of abuse including verbal attacks by customers on European staff.

Typical remarks included “I’ll come back to your store when it’s British” and “why are you still in the country? We won the vote, you should not be here.”

There have also been cases where employees have faced abuse because of the way they voted.

An employee who didn’t wish to be named told the Financial Times that anti-Brexit sentiment in his workplace had been a deciding factor in his decision to leave his job.

“The anger about Brexit was such that people temporarily abandoned the normal rules of conduct. The intellectual harassment that I experienced and the open hostility to my Brexit stance made me feel like an ideological outsider and it alienated me completely from my colleagues. It was like cultural bullying.”

Although employers may not be directly responsible for such actions they could still find themselves facing claims from employees if they do not have protection policies in place. The risk may be particularly high if employers had encouraged staff to vote one way or the other.

Employees are entitled to bring claims if they feel they have been discriminated against because of their philosophical beliefs. This wouldn’t normally include political allegiances as such but could encompass wider issues such as views on immigration and national sovereignty.

In the past there have been employment claims under the philosophical beliefs umbrella relating to climate change, spiritualism and fox hunting.

Businesses may wish to update their employment policies to protect themselves against Brexit related claims.

Please contact John Carter if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.