Employee lodging a complaint of racism

Dec 20, 2017

If an employee lodges a complaint of racism, the employer has to take it seriously. Otherwise the employer is guilty of unfair discrimination.
What are an employer’s duties when it comes to this? Firstly, lets look at racism.
What is racism?
Racism is a form of unfair discrimination and includes the following:

  • Race;
  • Ethnic or social origin;
  • Colour;
  • Culture; and
  • Language (Section 6 of the Employment Equity Act).

What does an employer need to do if an employee lodges a grievance? Follow the following process if an employee lodges a grievance against racism:

Step #1: Encourage employees to lodge a complaint
Racism and unfair discrimination complaints are very sensitive. The person who lodges the complaint loses face by telling the employer about the situation. The employer must handle subtle forms of racism with extra care. The offender can say he did not mean to be racist. This could leave the victim feeling disillusioned and angry. It is important to let the offender know how hurtful the comments are and how it infringes on a fellow employee’s dignity.
Step #2: Investigate the complaint
Racism attacks a person’s dignity. Someone who does not have the skills to facilitate the discussion will dismiss the matter as being a ‘storm in a teacup’. This could be because there is no direct evidence of an extreme racist remark. The victim will feel like the employer did not deal with the matter properly.
Once the employer has investigated by the matter, it is important to call both parties in and have a discussion around the issue. Once again, training around good mediation skills will be vital as to whether  the issue has been resolved or not.
Step #3: Hold a enquiry
Hold an enquiry/hearing with both parties present. Listen carefully to what both parties have to say. This will enable an employer to take the cue as to what will resolve the matter.
Step #4: Find a solution
The traditional way to resolve racism is to discipline an employee. This can drive racism underground and divide employees instead of addressing it and turning it around. However, some incidents of racism are so extreme that the employer have no choice, but to discipline or dismiss the offender.
An employer must take care of not being caught out being guilty of not taking an employee’s complaint of racism seriously.


The content does not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Kindly contact us on info@labourman.co.za or 021 556 1075 to speak to one of our consultants.


Wallace Albertyn

Wallace Albertyn is a Senior Associate and Legal Advisor at LabourMan Consultants.

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