Racism in the workplace

how to treat racism at work

Racism was and still is one of the most controversial topics in South Africa. In a working environment, racism can come in the form of remarks, treatment or behaviour towards any employer or employees. The Labour laws with regards to racism in a workplace are quite stringent and these crimes are not taken lightly. Here is our insight on how the Labour Law treats racism in the workplace.

Racism in a work environment

In South Africa, we have come a long way since Apartheid. However, racism is still prevalent in various ways within our society, especially in the workplace, as this is where most people spend their time on a daily basis. We are fortunate to have people from many diverse backgrounds and races working together in offices and workplaces. However, this can sometimes result in racism between co-workers in the work environment. Racism in the workplace can be defined as abusive language, racist jokes, racially offensive material, racist name-calling, negative stereotyping and exclusion of individuals from workplace interaction and activities. Racism can come from individuals as well as organisations as a whole.

Effects of racism in a workplace

Racism in a workplace only creates hostility. If an employer discriminates against a specific racial group of employees for example, this can cause the employees to feel unappreciated in terms of their work and who they are. This in turn creates a sense of resentment towards the company and the employees’ will put much less effort into their work. In all likelihood, this will lead to being unproductive in the work environment and will impact the well-being of the company. Racism can also result in escalating hostility in the work place which can lead to verbal or physical abuse. Any form of racism in a work environment is inexcusable and should not be ignored or tolerated.

Labour laws for racism in the workplace

Racism in the workplace is a serious crime and is not taken lightly by the Labour Courts and the The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The Constitution of South Africa recognises equality as a fundamental right and prohibits unfair discriminations based on race, ethnic or social origin or colour. In Labour law, the most notable piece of legislation is the Employment Equity Act (EEA). Section 6 of the EEA prohibits unfair discrimination against any employee on arbitrary grounds, including race, sex, disability, age and many others.

If any employee finds themselves being racially discriminated against, they should first lodge their grievance in writing to their employer. Refer the matter to the CCMA if the matter cannot be resolved at the workplace. The CCMA will thereby follow certain processes in accordance with the law to resolve the issue. It is important for employers to adopt a firm stance when dealing with cases involving racism. The worst thing an employer could do is to ignore the issue and continue to allow it to occur. 

Organisations and companies need to create a culture of inclusion where differences are valued. It is also critical to educate employees on how to deal with racial incidents in the workplace. MFM Attorneys prides itself on offering legal services, without prejudice. We recommend getting legal aid from attorneys experienced within the field of Labour Law practices. Take action now and put a stop to racism. Contact us for more information.