Research released today by GQ|Littler, a specialist employment law firm, has found that employment tribunal claims over ‘banter’ have risen by 45% over the last two years – from 67 in 2020 to 97 in 2022 – possibly due to the rise of instant messaging services such as WhatsApp or Slack.
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula UK, says there is a fine line between banter and harassment, and it’s something employers need to be aware of.
“Banter is too often used as an excuse to cover up unlawful attitudes and behaviours. Failure to adequately address inappropriate behaviours and creating a culture which does not facilitate diversity and inclusion can prove detrimental for organisations.
“In many workplaces, some good-natured banter will be appreciated, and could even be seen as an importance aspect of nurturing good workplace relationships. However, there is always a risk of a joke being misconstrued.
“What might appear to be a bit of harmless fun to one person could be incredibly upsetting or humiliating to another.
“When someone feels victimised as the recipient of unwanted comments or actions, that could be interpreted as harassment – and that could be a one-way ticket to an employment tribunal on the grounds of bullying, especially if the bullying behaviour relates to one of the protected characteristics.
“Employers should be conscious of inappropriate remarks in the workplace and ensure that any “banter” does not create an uncomfortable or offensive environment for any staff member, as this will likely be seen to be harassment.
“Having clear policies and zero-tolerance communication on workplace bullying and harassment can help protect organisations against claims, as can regular staff training and a culture of professionalism. Organisations might need to consider establishing clear standards of practice to remove any element of improper behaviour and make clear that the workplace is an environment of respect and equality.”