England Rugby prop, Joe Marler, called his Welsh opponent, Samson Lee, “gypsy boy” during last weekend’s Six Nations England v Wales match. The comment was caught on the referee’s microphone and broadcast live to an ITV audience. The incident caused further controversy when the Wales coach later dubbed the comment as ‘banter’, for which he subsequently apologised. Although Joe Marler’s comment was admitted and is contrary to the game’s governing regulations, a Six Nations disciplinary committee decided that no disciplinary action was necessary.

Six Nations Rugby said in a statement it was “aware of the seriousness” of the comment, and did “not in any way condone what was said”, but accepted it was said “in the heat of the moment”. Marler reportedly “deeply regretted what he had said” and apologised to Lee at half time.

Some gypsies and travellers will be protected from race discrimination and harassment under the Equality Act, and this would include derogatory ‘name-calling’.

Prevention is always better than cure: employers who do not take reasonable steps to prevent behaviour of this type at work risk being found liable for the actions of their employees at an employment tribunal. So what should you do? Having an up-to-date equal opportunities policy is the first step but it must be implemented too. This should include:

  • auditing existing policies, procedures and practices to ensure they comply with your equal opportunities policy;
  • communicating the policy effectively, and the potential consequences of breaching it;
  • providing appropriate equal opportunities and harassment training;
  • dealing effectively and consistently with breaches of the policy, including taking appropriate disciplinary action;
  • ensuring your physical work environment is free from material which might amount to harassment; and
  • monitoring and reviewing your policy and its effectiveness.

If you need further advice on preventing discrimination in the workplace or would like help drafting an equal opportunities policy, please get in touch with a member of the employment team.