The Daily Telegraph reports that a white police officer who compared a black colleague to a monkey has been sacked for gross misconduct.
Mr Hughes, a former police constable with the Metropolitan Police, was accused by a black colleague of his of making racially offensive comments towards him in early 2012, including comparing him to a monkey. The matter was referred to the police and an investigation resulted in Mr Hughes and a colleague being charged with racially-aggravated harassment and under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This resulted in a criminal prosecution and in November 2012 the case went before Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where the pair were acquitted. Mr Hughes admitted that he had compared a black male colleague to a monkey whilst his colleague, Mr Hair, had it put to him that he had told a black female colleague that she was “going home to cook bananas”. However, although the magistrate told Mr Hughes that his language was unacceptable and offensive, it did not amount to a criminal offence.
After the police were notified of the comments in 2012, the matter was voluntarily referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (the “IPCC”). The IPCC investigation led to the officers being charged with the above offences and later acquitted. However, a subsequent internal investigation found that there were grounds for disciplining Mr Hair and Mr Hughes. Mr Hughes was subsequently summarily dismissed for gross misconduct after it was found that there was reasonable grounds to show that he had engaged in misconduct relating to authority, respect and courtesy and and discreditable conduct. Mr Hair was given a final written warning.
Gross misconduct occurs when an employee commits an act which could be construed to be a fundamental breach of contract (i.e. indicating that they no longer intend to be bound by the terms of the contract). Conduct which normally amounts to gross misconduct includes violence in the workplace, gross negligence, theft and inebriation at work. However, conduct must be particularly bad for it to be considered gross misconduct and unless the act is particularly egregious a first-time offence normally won’t constitute grounds for dismissal.
If an employee racially harasses another colleague in the workplace then this could be deemed to constitute gross misconduct. If an employer is made aware of any incidents of racial harassment that take place in the workplace then the employer should investigate this immediately. A failure to act reasonably in the circumstances could lead to vicarious liability for a claim for racial harassment under the Equality Act 2010 and Employment Tribunal claims invariably lead to expenditure of time and money for employers.