At its best, banter can be harmless fun that makes the office a nicer place to be. At its worst, however, it can isolate team members and lead to allegations of bullying and discrimination.
Banning banter runs the risk of creating a prescriptive, authoritarian workplace. Nevertheless, it is essential to ensure employees and employers alike understand the risks should banter go too far.
Assessment of banter
The assessment of banter is subjective. An individual could interpret a remark as offensive even if that was not the intention. In addition, employers must also consider that words or remarks that were one day found to be harmless could be causing offence the next day.
It is not only the individuals engaging in bantering remarks to bear in mind but also other people in the vicinity, such as coworkers or customers. These third-party individuals could bring claims if offended, requiring the services of solicitors Gloucester such as https://www.deeandgriffin.co.uk/.
There is the potential for employers and employees making comments to be at risk of an employment tribunal claim against them. The Equality Act 2010 covers protected characteristics, which are age, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, belief, religion, maternity, pregnancy, gender reassignment, civil partnership and marriage. If banter involves one of these topics, it is considered unlawful discrimination if it was intended to offend or the recipient reasonably felt offended or upset.
However, comments of any sort, even those unrelated to protected characteristics, could lead to a tribunal claim if the recipient is offended, resigns and makes a claim of constructive unfair dismissal. Banter has been a contentious issue for some time, as shown in this article on the BBC.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) will assess banter reported to them, taking into account the overall culture within the office, peer relationships and will take account of the specific facts of the case. However, any successful claims could mean significant compensation costs.
Protect the business
If banning banter is unrealistic, how can an employer protect themselves if their staff do go too far? There must be clear steps showing the employer has undertaken reasonable action to prevent employees from being discriminatory. Actions employers should consider include ensuring anti-bullying and equal opportunity policies are robust and communicated to staff; enforcing these policies; and ensuring lines of communication between management and employees are open.