As one of her first decisions, our new Prime Minister Theresa May proposed to set up a new Brexit government department to negotiate our exit from the European Union. But the impact of the outcome of the referendum also appears to be directly affecting our UK workplaces.
In the run-up to the Brexit referendum, there was often discussion between staff as to the pros and cons of leaving the EU. This banter reflected the discussions that were being had within families and the wider community. Whilst Boris Johnson’s Leave campaign has propelled him to the role of Foreign Secretary in the new government, apparently many families have been less fortunate with elderly leave-voting parents no longer on speaking terms with their remain-voting children. There has also been an increase in reported racial abuse generally following the Brexit outcome.
In the workplace, it is natural for talk about Brexit to continue. For those remain-voters who are rather upset by the narrow victory of the Leave campaign, their emotions may sometimes run away from them and they might make rather uncomplimentary comments about or directly to leave-voters.
At the far end, accusing leave-voters of being racists would clearly amount to unlawful harassment, being unwanted conduct related to race. This would be on the basis that the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The making of similar derogatory comments related to religion would also be covered by the rules related to unlawful harassment.
However, making disparaging remarks generally regarding leave-voters about their allegedly narrow-minded, bigoted, short-sighted and insular views is also likely to get the maker of such comments into trouble. There were only two ways to vote in the referendum and it is highly likely that a sizeable proportion of colleagues voted to leave. Aside from the obvious ructions in workplace harmony caused by such comments and the risk (in serious cases) of claims for constructive dismissal, leave-voters are likely to be able to argue that their belief in the UK being better off outside the EU is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
If you haven’t done so recently, now would be a good time to ensure that your bullying and harassment policies are both up to date and regularly publicised to all staff.