It is a known fact that South Africa has had a difficult racial history, in which discrimination was highly prevalent. In today’s times, it is not unusual to still find that racism continues to creep into workplaces but employers have a duty to act on this speedily and stamp it out at the first signs.
It is easy to see that this is a continuing problem in our society and with the string of court cases surrounding racism in 2018, it’s clear that we are still a long way from the acceptance that our country requires.
Racism is something that often cannot be avoided by employers, with many feeling the need to discipline a staff member for a racist WhatsApp status or Facebook post, but not always being entirely sure how to act.
Racism is not also only limited to direct racial attacks, indirect forms such as evidenced through preferential treatment of a race are a prohibited form of discrimination that can become very expensive for an employer.
According to the equality clause in Section 9 of the South African Constitution, unfair discrimination based on certain grounds (including race) is prohibited. In terms of the Employment Equity Act (EEA) unfair discrimination in the workplace is dealt with under it’s own set of legislation. The first chapter in the EEA describes that the Act’s aim is to promote equal opportunity and fair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair discrimination.
Employees may also be subject to racial harassment which is “a form of social behaviour by either the employer or employee that is intended to belittle, marginalise, coerce, manipulate or intimidate persons belonging to a particular race.”
According to the case of Crown Chicken Farms, racism may be compared to a cancer which must be rooted out in our society. There can be little doubt that racism is destructive and must be eliminated in the workplace and broader society as it cannot be tolerated.
The following factors must be considered when an employer is deciding what actions to take for racism in the workplace:
- The availability of evidence.
- The extent of the publication of the statement.
- The perpetrator’s remorse for his/her actions.
- The effect on the victim.
- The repetition of the offence.
- Previous warnings.
In most instances, it is appropriate to dismiss an employee for a first offence when taking into account the above factors.
It is important to remember that racial insults go beyond those to whom they are individually directed and can have a major effect on the workplace as a whole.
The Labour Counsel assists employers with understanding the effects and consequences of race relations within their business and ensuring that proper measures are put into place to prevent racism in the workplace. Understanding the appropriate corrective action is a vital part of this process.