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‘Workplace banter’ lawsuits at an all-time high

Posted on: 13/05/2022

Employment lawyers and HR advisors are often accused of being killjoys.

Every year we give the same advice about how your Christmas parties can give rise to claims and of course we’re forever warning about the risks of comments or jokes being taken out of context and turned into costly discrimination claims.

Sadly, we make these warnings for good reason. Tribunal cases that reference ‘workplace banter’ are at a new high, rising 44% in the last year.

That’s according to research from Employment Law Firm GQ Littler.

In this article, Employment Solicitor Chris Dobbs discusses this further…

What is considered banter in the workplace?

For most of us, workplace banter is a fact of life and forms part of our daily interaction with co-workers.

A dictionary will tell you that it is the good-natured exchange of teasing remarks or comments; and therein lies the problem.

What is acceptable office banter?

There is an argument to say that no office banter is acceptable banter but that is clearly unworkable. The risk for employers is that the law allows even non-participants in the exchange to potentially bring discrimination claims.

We all know that there are things we consider it acceptable for our friends to say to us (maybe a joke about our age in a birthday card) but which we would consider to be crossing the line from someone else.

Disputes become more likely when the content of the banter touches on a protected characteristic.

Of course, it is often the case that friends and co-workers make jokes at the expense of each other’s age, sex or even medical conditions, especially where the individual makes those jokes themselves.

When does workplace banter become bullying?

Bullying is not a term with a legal definition and so the point at which banter becomes bullying is often down to the definition in each workplace’s policy or code of conduct.

Legally bulling is most likely to give rise to claims for harassment (Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010) or, potentially, constructive unfair dismissal.

Click here to read the full article.

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