What can employers learn from Gareth Southgate?


Football Pitch Joelson

The worst – and best – behaviour

The recent match between England and Bulgaria in Sofia on the 14th October will be remembered for the worst and best behaviour of which people are capable. On the one hand, the conduct of a section of home fans who chanted racist abuse and performed Nazi salutes, directed towards the England team’s black players, were nothing short of deplorable, and have no place in modern, forward-thinking society. On the other, the players who called out the behaviour, stopping the game until the abuse had been addressed, along with the support of Gareth Southgate, the team’s manager, in backing up his players, were commendable.

While employers are unlikely to be faced with a situation akin to harassment from a group of these particular fans’ size, nor a group channelling such poisonous herd mentality, it does raise some questions about how they might address behaviour of a similar nature.

What if this happens in the workplace?

Stepping off the football pitch and into the workplace, should an employee share concerns about their being harassed, they should be able to expect the full support of their employer, as was the case for players like Tyrone Mings during Monday’s football game. ‘Harassment’ under the Equality Act means ‘unwanted conduct,’ related to one or more of the ‘protected characteristics,’ of which race is one. Harassment is further defined by the Act as ‘conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’ for someone.

Prevention is better than cure

Employers should, and need to have robust policies in place to deal with this kind of problematic behaviour and should be expected to follow them. However, failure by employers to follow their own policies is not untypical, unfortunately. But, simply having a policy in place is no use unless the employer is prepared to actively follow it. Failure by employers to adhere to their own policies is a risk exposing employers to liability.

Good employee relations can be fostered where employees receive training about anti-harassment policies, both to raise awareness for those who may be tempted to engage in problem behaviours such as this, and to give confidence to employees that harassment is not, and will not be tolerated and will be addressed.

Employers ignore good governance at their peril

Anti-harassment policies should form part of a suite of an employer’s equality, diversity and inclusion policies. Companies and organisations need to be mindful that equality, diversity and inclusion policies are essential and foundational in good governance. There can be exposure to risk and liability not only in relation to employment rights but also to governance standards and regulatory compliance for failures in this regard. Directors and boards (including trustees and council members) who ignore or sideline equality, diversity and inclusion issues do so at their peril. There is no place for harassment in the modern workplace, and those who do not take it seriously, or act accordingly, may well face repercussions.


If you require assistance with any of the above matters, please contact Jennifer Maxwell-Harris of the Joelson employment team on +44 (0)20 7580 5721.

This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.