One of our staff was clearly seen to be supporting the British National Party (BNP) at the by-election resuls. News has spread around the office like wildfire, and now one of his black colleagues is refusing to work with him. What should I do?
If one of your staff engages in unwanted conduct with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of another employee, or creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them on the grounds of race, then the first employee may be racially harassing the second, and you may be vicariously liable.
But in this particular instance, he has done nothing at work for which he can be criticised, and there is no suggestion that he has courted publicity. As such, he cannot be regarded as acting inappropriately in the course of employment, so there is no risk of vicarious liability at present. All you can do is bring the terms of the equality policy and disciplinary procedure to his attention, so that he is made aware that any act of discrimination committed in the course of employment will be considered as gross misconduct.
What about the black worker?
While expressing every sympathy, you should explain that you cannot discipline the BNP supporter for activities out of the workplace unless they affect his ability to do his job. However, you can say that you have informed them of their obligations in relation to the equality policy, and the consequences of not following it.
What if they still refuse to work with the BNP activist?
Again, this may be a situation where “some other substantial reason” comes into play. You should look for an alternative position for both of the individuals with a view to moving one out. If this becomes impossible, it would probably be safer to dismiss the BNP activist than the black employee.