Company’s request did not amount to race discrimination

An employer’s request for a member of their staff not to speak her first language while at work did not amount to race discrimination, an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has concluded.

The Tribunal had been asked to consider the case of a contract analyst who was employed at a UK research laboratory.

Bosses had become concerned that the woman was regularly having phone conversations in Russian while visiting the toilet.

This had caused alarm because the company had previously been infiltrated by animal rights activists and there was a concern that the member of staff may have reasons for not wanting her employer to hear what she was saying.

Her manager instructed her to stop speaking Russian so he could understand the conversations. She objected and following a series of grievance and disciplinary proceedings, the member of staff resigned.

She subsequently made a claim against her former employer for race discrimination and racial harassment.

When the case was first heard at Tribunal, a Judge ruled that the company’s actions did not constitute racial discrimination since they had a reasonable explanation for why they had instructed the member of their team not to speak in Russian. This ruling was upheld when it went to the EAT.

Companies have nonetheless been warned that they must adopt a consistent approach across their entire workforce and have clear reasons for having such a policy in place.

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