Dismissed for using ‘the N word’ in a training session

Dismissed for using ‘the N word’ in a training session

£490,000 compensation for Lloyds Bank worker unfairly dismissed for using ‘the N word’ in a training session

Carl Borg-Neal was a manager at Lloyds Bank. He was one of more than 70,000 employees who were invited to attend a race education training session in 2021.

During the training session, the group was told to “speak freely” and that the session was an opportunity to “be clumsy”. Mr Borg-Neal asked how he should handle a situation where a member of an ethnic minority used a word that may be considered offensive if used by someone not from that minority. He said to the trainer that rap music was: “The most common example of the use of the N-word in the black community”. However, instead of using the abbreviation, he used the full racial slur.

Mr Borg-Neal immediately apologised and did not repeat the word. However, the trainer, who was black, was offended by the use of the N-word and, as a result, took four or five days off work. It was this fact that triggered an internal investigation.

After working for Lloyds Bank for 30 years and maintaining a clean disciplinary record, he was dismissed for gross misconduct.  

The Employment Tribunal held that the Bank was reasonable to hold the view that the use of the full N-word was appalling and should “always be avoided in a professional environment”. However, they upheld one of the disability discrimination claims put forward by Mr Borg-Neal on the basis that his dyslexia could lead him to “keep reformulating questions and to ‘spurt’ things out before he lost his train of thought”. 

The Tribunal found in favour of Mr Borg-Neal and held that his dyslexia was a strong factor in how he expressed himself and that no reasonable employer would have dismissed him given the unusual and particular circumstances of the case. 

Subsequently, the claimant was awarded £490,000 in damages. 

In his own words, Mr Borg-Neal alleges that he was subject to an “Orwellian witch-hunt” for the “smallest mistake”.

Employers face a challenge in ensuring freedom of expression in the workplace without this becoming harmful and negatively affecting a respectful and inclusive working environment. This delicate balance includes clear communication and training of company policies regarding acceptable speech and behaviour. Any follow-up action should indeed consider wider context and other relevant factors. 

In any case, after a decision like this, employers should be careful to not develop a culture where the right to freedom of expression is routinely misused. 

You can read the full judgement here.

This blog was written by Rabiha Malik, Paralegal at didlaw.