Is workplace ‘banter’ becoming a problem?


Part of the fun working in an office is joking around with our colleagues. I mean, why not have a little fun? you maybe haven’t seen them face to face in a while with remote and hybrid working.

office banter

office banter

Workplace tribunals including the word “banter” has significantly increased in the UK within the last year alone as former colleagues clash over what they deem to be acceptable office humour.

What is Banter?

The dictionary describes the word banter as the “playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks”. In its proper form, banter can help build healthy relationships and whilst most of us think banter at work can be valued as a key element of a relaxed and happy workplace environment, others may dispute this.

The question is, can banter be linked to one of the protected characteristics, such as sex, race or sexual orientation? Does this mean that banter should be prohibited in the workplace?  In short, the answer is no, but there are caveats.

A tribunal considers each case on its own merits and will take into consideration factors such as the office culture and the individual’s own behaviour.

For an employee to be successful in a claim for harassment under the Equality Act, they are required to prove that their colleagues engaged in unwanted conduct relating to a relevant protected characteristic, and the conduct had the purpose or effect of violating their dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

A victim can sue an employer who fails to provide a safe work environment where they have been harassed based on race, national origin, sex, disability, age, or sexual orientation. These tribunal awards can run into thousands of pounds and can also be devastating for a company in a public relations sense.

GQ Littler warned that employers could be liable for discriminatory comments made by staff made “in the course of employment”, even if this fell outside of working hours. 

It said banter can work as a defence if the employee made similar jokes, was not offended or the comment was not connected to a protected characteristic. 

What can managers do?

Enforcing rules about acceptable and unacceptable banter can be difficult but it is an important part when maintaining a more relaxed office environment. It should be made clear on what behaviour the company expects from its employees, and make sure everyone knows the consequences for falling short of these expectations.

Things you can do:

  • Have the suitable policies in place.
  • Conduct the appropriate training. Training employees on equality and diversity is crucial.
  • Establish appropriate channels, both formal and informal, through which employees can raise concerns.
  • Ensure managers are alert to the risks of problems developing.
  • Act quickly and proportionately to address problems when they arise.
  • Investigate and potentially take the relevant action.
  • Ensure that sanctions applied to those who act inappropriately are proportionate and consistent
  • Have a consistent approach to internal and external messaging about these sorts of issues

The more your employees understand these issues, the better your business will be protected. 

At Tick HR Solutions we can offer advice on Equality and Diversity, help make your staff aware and supply the right policy for your business to keep you better protected.

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