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Has Liam Neeson ‘Taken’ things too far?

What is the news?

Actor Liam Neeson has denied he is racist after admitting he wanted to kill a black man.

Mr Neeson said that around 40 years ago he reacted to the rape of a woman he knew well by walking the streets with a weapon with the intention of murdering a black person. The comments were made in a recent interview when Mr Neeson was promoting his latest movie, Cold Pursuit, and have resulted in a huge backlash against the actor. Some are questioning his racially offensive language whereas others consider this to be a reflection of his violent capabilities. Mr Neeson on the other hand said he wanted his comments to start a wider conversation about racism which could encourage people to “To talk. To open up.”

What do we think of the news?

So, to spin this into an employment context (of course): it is often the case that people do not realise or consider the implications of the comments that they make or how they may be received by others, be that online or face to face. The danger of this for an employer relates to harassment and discrimination claims (and general employee relations/grievance issues) if individuals make comments in the workplace which could then be taken offensively.

We have previously issued hot responses relating to office culture and the challenges around this so will not repeat this here. However, this is a good example of how important it is for individuals to consider how their comments may come across and how they could be viewed as offensive (particularly in the workplace or – as we can see – if they are in the public eye). This is also a heads up to employers to make sure that there is training/advice given to their employees as to what may or may not be appropriate to say.

It is also a lesson in what is sensible to say on social media.  An employer may want a policy in place which draws the line between work and home life so that a distinction can be made as to whether an employee is expressing a personal view or acting as a representative of the company. It would also be worthwhile to set out what personal views can be discussed, for example, many employers do not allow their employees to express any political, offensive or religious views.

If you would like to talk through any concerns you may have in relation to your handbook policies, please contact Solicitor, Heena Kapadi on T: 0161 358 0540 or E: heenakapadi@hrclaw.co.uk or Associate, Siobhan Howard-Palmer on T: 0161 358 0537 or E: siobhanhoward-palmer@hrclaw.co.uk.

This contains a general overview of information only. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon, as legal advice. You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any specific legal problem or matter.