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Accepted banter became offensive behaviour after a request for it to stop was ignored

In Krupinska v Stone Gate Pub Co Ltd, Miss Krupinska (K) is Polish. A tribunal heard evidence that Miss Smith (S) frequently corrected K’s pronunciation of English, deliberately mispronounced her name, said obscene things in Polish such as “liz me cipe” (“lick my p***y”), made jokes about K such as “Polish the cutlery” (a pun), commented that K drunk vodka and being drunk was the reason she was not at work and referred to K as Natasha Kaplinski (the TV broadcaster). While K agreed that initially she did not object to S’s behaviour, it reached a point where she felt she was being mocked. K made it clear that S’s conduct was no longer acceptable and it should stop because it was now unwanted and causing offence. However, the banter continued, K raised a grievance, but it was rejected.

The tribunal upheld K’s racial harassment claim. Once K had made it clear that S should not continue the mocking behaviour then her conduct was unwanted and had the effect of violating K’s dignity and creating an offensive working environment. The tribunal also expressed surprise at the way the employer handled the grievance. It never properly tested S’s assertion that nothing she said was done with any malice and that K had accepted it in the spirit it was intended, as a “bit of fun between work colleagues”. The employer had also ignored how K described the impact of the conduct on her.

This case highlights a practical situation which employees and employers sometimes have to deal with in the workplace, where ‘banter’ changes from being acceptable to unacceptable, but yet continues after the ‘victim’ asks it to stop. Employers who truly embrace diversity would never tolerate this type of behaviour in the first place, even if colleagues found it acceptable. But the message is clear: ‘stop’ means ‘stop’ when a colleague says enough-is-enough and a grievance must be investigated fully, taking all the circumstances into account.

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The aim is to provide summary information and comment on the subject areas covered. In particular, where employment tribunal and appellate court cases are reported, the information does not set out full details of all the facts, the legal arguments presented by the parties and the judgments made in every aspect of the case. Click on the links provided to access full details. If no link is provided contact us for further information. Employment law is subject to constant change either by statute or by interpretation by the courts. While every care has been taken in compiling this information, SM&B cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. Specialist legal advice must be taken on any legal issues that may arise before embarking upon any formal course of action.

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