When A Joke Is An Insult In Disguise

When A Joke Is An Insult In Disguise

Wrapping up a racial comment as a joke can be costly, as one employer recently discovered. It’s a lesson that should  not be ignored by any employer.

An employment tribunal heard that a lorry driver was in the minority  at the firm where he worked,  being English . He was repeatedly called work-shy, and subject to jibes including statements that: “No more English drivers should be used as they are lazy and only interested in claiming benefits.”

The comments were made by Burvinder Singh Birk, boss of Birk Holdings, based in Peterborough, although it was claimed  the words had been spoken in jest.

The driver was sacked in 2019, with Birk citing concerns about his performance, attendance and time keeping.

The tribunal panel ruled  the driver had suffered race discrimination and harassment. He was awarded £2,500 for injury to feelings and a further £961.74 for a breach of employment law.

“The comments are serious such that they create a hostile and/or intimidating environment because they are made by a number of reasonably senior individuals, over a period of time, repeated and in a workplace in which the claimant was a minority,” said employment Judge Jennifer Bartlett.

“A lot of extremely unpleasant behaviour can be dressed up as a joke, but it is not an excuse,” said  Judge Bartlett.


The Graham Agency, keeping you informed.