Some workplace banter off limits

A recent Fair Work Commission ruling has drawn a clearer line for workers between justifiable workplace repartee, and blatant racism.

Fair Work Commissioner Ian Cambridge recently upheld Australia Post subsidiary StarTrack Express’s decision to sack forklift driver Michael Taylor for serious misconduct. Despite being regarded by the Transport Worker Union (TWU) as common place within depots, pubs and clubs, Cambridge concluded that Taylor’s repeated use of racial slurs in the workplace, including terms like ‘gooks’, ‘coconuts’, ‘towelheads’ and ‘go back to where you came from black c—‘, could not be tolerated.

Cambridge accepted that swearing and robust language in some workplaces might be tolerable, but he made it clear that more targeted language was off limits. Taylor also rejected the TWU’s argument that Taylor’s workplace banter was ‘well-meant’ and in no way intended to offend.

“Such an attempted defence of justification of abhorrent behaviour is an approach that disregards the fundamental wrong-doing, and it fails to appreciate that the victims…do not complain because they feel powerless to prevent the conduct,” said Cambridge.

Verbal jousting or blatant racism

What Cambridge found equally disturbing was Taylor’s unwillingness to recognise or regret that calling someone a black c—’, was not racially based.

In summing up, Cambridge reminded workers everywhere that there’s a world of difference between verbal jousting that’s part and parcel of a knockabout’ workplace, and blatant racial slurring.

“There is a world of difference between calling someone a ‘dead c—,’ as opposed to a ‘black c—‘. Crudity can be tolerated racism can’t.”

Fortunately, due to new whistleblower laws, victimised workers will feel more comfortable calling out racial abuse experienced at the hands of co-workers.

New Whistleblower laws will require public companies and large proprietary companies to have a whistleblower policy that discloses information about the protections available to whistleblowers, and how it plans to ensure fair treatment.

With the ‘me too’ movement having galvanised the resolve of whistleblowers to stand up and be counted the world over, companies need to sit up and take note. Employees who may have previously feared victimisation by management or fellow employees for speaking out, will finally be empowered to escalate concerns without negative consequence.

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