Head of HR wades into workplace racism row with 'coward' email

Headlines that bear all the hallmarks of a culture-issue and disciplinary row that many in the people function will likely have seen, in a perhaps less extreme form, before. Headlines that have also seen an ex-England captain deny involvement and the Health Secretary for the UK call for sackings as a result of.

And now HR has got involved - but not in a way that shines the best light on the function.

What we know so far?

It’s been a sportsworld scandal that centres on a lack of disciplinary action taken by a sports club employer after an ex-employee was found to be the target of repeated racial slurs.

Azeem Rafiq, a former Yorkshire cricket player, was called the ‘p word’, by a senior player. This was known by the club but after a report into the incident they said they would not take any disciplinary action against anyone involved.

This lack of action comes after the player said institutionalised racism at the organisation led to him coming close to taking his own life.

After the report’s publication, a spokesman for the ex-employee Rafiq said: "It is inconceivable that there are no current employees who should have been disciplined for their conduct."

"Yorkshire's failures continue to mount up and it is time that Board members - for once - do the decent thing and resign."

The lack of action has even led the Health secretary Sajid Javid to get involved, saying “heads should roll.” This was followed up by a statement from Downing Street which called for a thorough investigation.

HR’s involvement

It’s obvious that there is an HR angle to this scandal. An ex-employee accuses another employee of racism in the workplace, reveals mental health struggles as a result of said racism, and then the story blows up a result of lack of action. It’s a headline about processes and culture gone wrong.

In fact, at this point in the unravelling narrative - most would expect HR to have stepped in (if not long before) – and they have, just not in the best way.

Indeed, the Head of HR at the embattled Yorkshire cricket club – where the racism took place – took it upon herself to email a supporter accusing of them of waging a campaign against the club after the media spotlight fell firmly on the institution.

In this email, she also accused the victim, Rafiq, of waging a campaign against the club, too.

The email, from Liz Neto, incumbent HR lead at the club, read: "The full file, along with the full details of my complaint to West Yorkshire Police are also going in the file of papers to the DCMS so they can get a flavour of the campaign being waged by [people] such as you and Azeem Rafiq on social media.

"I have the full file of papers on your complaint in 2018 and the prompt action to investigate taken by the club and by West Yorkshire Police.

"The fact you redacted your details but left mine in full view shows you to be a coward.

"I do hope you are proud, you certainly sound very proud."

The right way to deal with accusations

Most earnest practitioners will recognise this as the wrong way to go about dealing with both internal accusations and public pressure.

But there are better examples, and one comes from Prada.

Back in 2020, the fashion brand was accused of racial insensitivity due to the positioning of models and figurines.

They publicly apologised and doubled down on efforts to improve understanding within the firm by rolling out better training.

At the time, the fashion house issued an apology stating that their actions werent intentional but pledged that they would “improve our diversity training and will immediately form an Advisory Council to guide our efforts on diversity, inclusion and culture” going forwards.

Yet not everyone is so hot on this topic.

Despite D&I currently being a hot topic in the HR space, a 2019 report from Business in the Community (BITC) found that less than half of UK employees receive D&I training.

BITC’s Race Equality Director, Sandra Kerr OBE, previously explained that employers should be taking inclusion training more seriously.

She explained: “All employers should build this necessary training into their existing mandatory training programmes for all employees and ensure that they receive ‘refresher’ training at regular intervals.

“Training for managers should also cover how to sensitively address complaints of racial bullying and harassment at work from employees, including from customers and contractors, and communicate a zero-tolerance policy of such behaviour throughout the organisation,” she concluded.

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