What are your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to workplace banter? - Palmers Solicitors

What are your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to workplace banter?

What are your responsibilities as an employer when it comes to workplace banter?

Banter can be a controversial subject. To some, it is simply light-hearted teasing that a team can bond over. Yet to others, it can be interpreted as being a hallmark of a hostile workplace culture where bullying is rife.

Interpreting which actions cross the line and which do not is a tightrope, and as an employer you need to tread carefully to ensure your staff are protected from unacceptable behaviour.

Samantha Randall, an Associate Solicitor with Palmers, who specialises in employment law, said: “Workplace harassment is defined as: “unwanted behaviour linked to a protected characteristic that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive environment for them.

“The problem is that one person’s “banter” can easily be another person’s “harassment”.

“The biggest employment law risk is when things touch on protected characteristics under the Equality Act.”

According to the Equality Act, the following characteristics are protected by law:

  • Age
  • Gender reassignment
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Disabilities
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation.

Samantha added: “The widespread use of technology and social media means that the risks of workplace harassment are compounded, due to increased communication between employees outside of the workplace; whether by way of video calls or through text messages or instant messaging apps.

“As an employer, you should have in place a clear bullying and harassment policy so if a member of staff feels they are the subject of bullying or harassment, they are able, in the first instance, to raise the matter internally.

“It is important to take all complaints of harassment seriously, particularly if it is an allegation of bullying in relation to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, as a failure to do so could lead to legal action and a possible employment tribunal.”

For help and advice on all aspects of employment law, please get in touch with us.