Is using a racial slur always a sackable offence?

    Is using a racial slur always a sackable offence?

    You may have read about the recent case involving Lloyds Bank and an employee who dropped the N-bomb at a training seminar. Would you automatically assume that this is gross misconduct and a sackable offence? Read on to find out what happened with Lloyds and their employee.


    The employee worked for Lloyds Bank as a manager and had a clean disciplinary record.

    Lloyds Bank decided to run Race Education Training. During one of the training sessions, an employee posed a shocking question to the trainer. The question concerned how to deal with a situation where an individual from an ethnic minority uses a word that could be considered as offensive if said by another person, not part of an ethnic minority.

    The employee did not get an immediate response and so, he decided to reiterate his question by saying ‘the most common example being use of  “n*****” in the black community’. To clarify, the employee said the full word, no abbreviations, no asterisk, no beeps. Before you could say “disciplinary procedure” the employee realised the seriousness of what he had said, apologised immediately and did not use the word again in the training session. However, this incident left some of the attendees shaken, particularly the trainer who went off work for 4 – 5 days. Now that’s what you call a memorable training day!

    Lloyds Response

    Lloyds Bank, not wanting to fall ‘foul’ of their disciplinary process, launched an investigation into the incident.

    Their verdict? The employee’s use of the full N-word amounted to gross misconduct and they suspended the employee from his managerial role and, ultimately, dismissed him.

    The Bank did accept that the question was valid in the learning environment and was not asked with any malicious intention.

    Employment Tribunal

    The employee took the case to the Employment Tribunal claiming unfair dismissal.

    The Employment Tribunal agreed that the full use of the N-word is appalling and should not have been used within a professional environment. However, after a thorough review of the facts, the Tribunal held that a reasonable employer would not have concluded that this particular incident amounted to gross misconduct. Consequently, the employee won their case against Lloyds Bank for unfair dismissal.

    Employment Team’s Thoughts

    Now let’s dissect this case. Consideration of the context behind the use of the full N-word is so important. Notably, the employee used the full N-word when asking a question within an educational environment and without malicious intent. A vital learning point from this case is that employers must consider all of the facts surrounding a workplace incident to ensure a fair process and procedure is followed and, of course, to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the ruling.

    If a fair procedure is not followed when dismissing an employee, you may find yourself facing serious repercussions. Think Employment Tribunal claims that can hurt your finances, reputation and brand.

    So there you have it! A riveting case that reminds us all to think before we speak, especially in the workplace, as well as properly consider the facts of the matter, taking into account the specific circumstances, before making a decision as to how to deal with it.
    The full case (C Borg-Neal vs Lloyds Banking Group PLC) can be found on the Government website. 

    If you require any assistance regards this topic or anything else employment law related, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment team.


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