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What lessons can employers learn from the Yorkshire Cricket Club complaints crisis?

Posted by Lotty Reeves on 10th November 2021

With anti-bullying week coming up on the 15th of November, it is disturbing to see how such well-known organisations can still get it so wrong. Not only has it been proven that racial harassment and bullying took place within Yorkshire Cricket Club, but the handling of the investigatory process has also been disastrous.  

Azeem Rafiq filed race discrimination and harassment claims against Yorkshire Cricket Club. He played professionally for the club during two spells between 2008 and 2018. He alleged that he was the subject of institutional racism within the club.

After Rafiq spoke out in August, following which the club commissioned an independent investigation into the allegations. The report has not yet been published. The Club came under pressure from the England Cricket Board to release the report but only a heavily redacted summary has been published. The report upheld 7 of 40 allegations made by Rafiq while other allegations could not be upheld because there was insufficient evidence. The 7 allegations upheld included a broad spectrum of discriminatory/ bullying behaviour:

  • No Halal food options were provided at matches
  • Incidents of Racist language were used against him which constituted harassment under the Equality Act 2010
  • Jokes were made about religion and religious beliefs
  • The Club failed to follow its own policy where concerns of racism were raised
  • Not enough was done to make Muslims welcome within stadiums.

Following the report, Yorkshire Cricket Club has accepted that there was no question that Azeem Rafiq was the victim of racial harassment and bullying. However, they only offered a  general apology. They apologised that Rafiq was the victim of “inappropriate behaviour” but provided no further detail. Despite, the Club admitting that Azeem was a victim of racial harassment, the Club confirmed that there would be no disciplinary action taken. This has led to wide-ranging criticism that individuals responsible have gone unpunished.

It has also been reported that the racist behaviour and comments were seen by some within the club as “friendly banter.” Racist language and behaviour can never be tolerated as part of workplace “banter.” The demarcation between what is acceptable banter and that which crosses the line should be marked out so that everyone has a safe inclusive environment in which to work and offensive language is always harassment where the individual or those hearing such comments or witnessing that behaviour. Falling on the wrong line of this can have severe consequences. For example:

Financial repercussions

Because of the racist behaviour that has occurred and the mishandling of the investigation by the Club, numerous sponsors have pulled their support. For example, Nike Emerald, Yorkshire Tea, Anchor Butter, JT Ellis and David Lloyd have all made it clear that they no longer support the Club and do not want to be associated with it. No doubt there will be more to follow.

The ECB have confirmed that Yorkshire are suspended from hosting any major or international fixtures.

Employees mental health

Azeem has stated how the effect of this racist behaviour left him struggling with his mental health and left him feeling suicidal

Put the whole stability of the organisation at risk

Some within the Media are arguing that any organisation that cannot deal with such investigations are not fit for purpose and that as a result the whole board needs to resign. The Chairman has already resigned. With such instability within the Club and financial support being terminated by sponsors, unless the Club changes course, it is at extreme financial risk.

Negative Media Coverage

The story has remained in the full glare of the media spotlight as a direct result of the Club failing to handle the process in an appropriate and responsible manner. This has led to criticism from people within the sport and the Government. This cycle of negative press has had a very detrimental effect on the Club and continues to put pressure on all those associated with the Club.

So, what can employers learn from this?

First and foremost, any attempt to justify discriminatory conduct or comments on the grounds of banter is never going to succeed if there is a negative impact on the subject receiving it or those who witness it.

Having policies and equality initiatives, are important starting points but even more needs to be done. Having these things in place but failing to enforce or police potential breaches makes such policies futile. Strong policies and commitments and seeing through any complaints made where this warrants disciplinary action will help to ensure that all employees are protected from discriminatory behaviour and show all involved that this is not going to be tolerated in your workplace.

If there has been an instance of l discrimination, this needs to be handled in an efficient and respectful way. As this current crisis illustrates very neatly, the consequences of getting it wrong can be exceptionally severe.

If an investigatory report has been produced, this needs to be documented appropriately. Having an open and transparent report in relation to any findings and preparing this in a speedy and efficient manner will help enormously. Hiding the results or not involving the alleged victim, as happened here with Azeem, will damage the relationship beyond repair. Being open and cooperative increases trust within the process.

If changes have been recommended as a result of an investigatory process, it is important to embrace these changes and implement them in a systematic and positive way. Admitting that there has been wrongdoing, but that there will be no punishment or disciplinary action will invite severe criticism. There needs to be some positive change and outcome against any perpetrators from the process.

Whilst the current example addresses the issue of racial discrimination within the sport, discrimination is a much more widespread issue. A study has found that at least 36% of UK adults have experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace. A learning lesson for employers is to have the right policies and procedures in place to ensure that any investigation is carefully managed and that there are consequences for any breaches.

If you need help handling any discrimination issues, then contact a member of our expert employment law team.

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