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ET rules worker who found racially charged messages in work WhatsApp group was harassed

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

People Management reports that Watford Employment Tribunal has ruled that an operations clerk was the victim of harassment because of her sex, race and religious belief after finding explicit messages in a WhatsApp group used by her co-workers. The tribunal heard that Ms M. Abdi is a black woman of Somali origin, and she wears a hijab. She worked for the courier as an evening operations clerk from 6 November 2017 until her resignation on 1 September 2018.

In August 2018, two new employees – Mr T Tripp and Mr O Rolls – started with Deltec International Courier. On 10 August, there was a discussion in the office between the claimant and her colleagues, during which the topic of white privilege was raised. Abdi said this discussion developed into an argument, which culminated in Tripp and Rolls telling her that “the majority of crimes in England are made by black people”.

Subsequently, Abdi, in the course of her duties, used a colleague’s details and logged onto her computer. she saw a WhatsApp group including Tripp and Rolls, as well as her line manager, S Hocking. A number of offensive comments had been made including the term “f***ing immigrants”. Members of the group had also asked what “her” problem was and for someone to “shut this terrorist up” before they “rip her headscarf off”. The tribunal accepted that these comments were made about Abdi and another female colleague.

In her ruling, Judge Louise Skehan said the office environment in which Abdi worked was “chaotic and juvenile as described by the claimant” and “one in which inappropriate language was commonplace”.

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