Mr A Leader vs Leeds City Council

August 2019

Employers can be held liable for the actions committed by an employee during their employment, this can include bullying, harassment and discriminatory behaviour. However, if an employer is able to demonstrate that they have implemented and enforced policies to combat discriminatory behaviour, keep staff up to date on training and policy in relation to Diversity and Inclusion and have taken action when complaints are brought forward – they may avoid being held liable for the actions of an employee.

Mr A Leader vs Leeds City Council is an unusual case where an employee was found liable for racial harassment and was ordered to pay compensation to the victim. The employer was considered to have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination or harassment so the employer did not have any liability.

Mr Leader was employed by the council as an environmental action operative and described himself as a black Afro-Carribean man. On the day he experienced racial harassment, he was working with supervisor and assistant chargehand Andrew Hossack, who was driving a work vehicle they were sharing. They were listening to the radio when the broadcaster announced that the temperature was -11°C at the Winter Olympics. Mr Leader had told the Leeds Employment Tribunal that Mr Hossack said: “If you think it’s cold here, you should take your black arse over there.” When Mr Leader stared at Mr Hossack in shock, he replied: “Your arse is black isn’t it?” Mr Leader responded that it was “the last time I looked.” Mr Hossack was also reported to have made another racist comment when he said “these f***ing foreigners” when they pulled up behind a lorry with a Polish registration plate.

Mr Leader told his line manager about the incident and that he considered Mr Hossack to be a racist he would not like to work with again. Leeds City Council confirmed that they were dealing with the incident under its disciplinary policy and the matter was going to be referred to a disciplinary hearing to consider a charge of misconduct.

Mr Leader was unhappy with the actions taken by Leeds City Council because after the incident of racial harassment, Mr Hossack was not relocated or suspended even though the council promised Mr leader her would not have to work with him again. However, the Leeds Employment tribunal concluded that the council had taken all reasonable actions to prevent Mr Hossack from making racist comments and Mr Leader had agreed with this statement in a previous employment tribunal. The liability was therefore passed onto Mr Hossack because while the council was cleared of racial discrimination, Mr Leader’s evidence was “coherent, credible and convincing” enough for the tribunal to rule he had experienced racial harassment. Mr Hossack was ordered to pay Mr Leader £2,769 for injury of feelings plus interest.

To avoid claims of racist discrimination and harassment, employers are advised to take the following actions:

  • Create and implement policies on race, racism and bullying and harassment. Encourage line managers and senior leaders to regularly review and action the policies where appropriate.
  • Train line managers on how to process complaints and grievances quickly and efficiently, while managing expectations of all parties regarding outcomes.