Boris Johnson Racism Scandal

It’s the final Friday of the month! Summer is slowly fading into autumn, rain has fallen (regrettably not the kind that is blessed down in Africa) and we have another employment law update for you.

Last month’s newsletter had features on the sunny weather (which was supposed to last until October!), the Jo Swinson paring scandal and some government reports on caste, pay gaps and sexual harassment. Meanwhile, last week’s case law update was about agency

Yet another month with political scandal dominating the employment law news. In a column in the Daily Telegraph, former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, compared women in burqas to letterboxes” and “bank robbers” whilst marking them as “ridiculous”. These remarks had real-life consequences for many British Muslims and also highlight some important race discrimination issues.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being harassed at work by their employer or colleagues. This includes abuse, threatening behavior, and jokes. Harassment is unwanted or unwelcome behaviour which deliberately or has the effect of either violating someone’s dignity or creating an unpleasant environment.  The comments made by Boris Johnson would certainly fall under the definition of harassment.

In the same article Johnson also proposed a policy of not allowing women who wear burqas to do so in universities or MP surgeries. This could be seen as direct discrimination because it is specifically targeted at Muslim women and no other group who cover their face.

If it was a policy of not having faces covered then it could also be indirect discrimination. A policy that discriminates against Muslim women, who are the demographic predominantly affected by such a policy. Would needing to see someone’s face and not having people who supposedly look like bank robbers/letter boxes at universities and MP surgeries be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim? The answer is probably not.

This article and comments made by Jeremy Corbyn about Israel Palestine have both been compared to Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. Our recurring feature of employment law in politics suggests that businesses and politicians are not held to the same levels of account when it comes to discrimination and harassment issues.