Controlling Banter in the Workplace

Promoting a healthy, positive, and inclusive working environment for employees is one of the most important aspects of running a successful business. Without providing a safe environment for your employees, they will become demotivated and potentially wish to leave the establishment due to feeling unhappy and uncomfortable in the workplace.

There are many ways that employers can make sure employees feel comfortable in their working environment. One way is to control banter in the workplace. There is a fine line between what is acceptable and what is not, and people’s perceptions on what might be considered such will differ from person to person.  It is important that employers ensure that there is a common understanding amongst their team of what is ‘just banter’ and what is unacceptable behaviour.

In 2018, an employee brought claims of discrimination and victimisation against his employer, however his employer argued that on several occasions he had participated in a similar exchange of ‘teasing remarks’ and had only brought up the complaint once. Due to this information, he lost the case.

However, in a separate tribunal, Anca Lacatus claimed that her boss had used the term ‘birds’ to refer to her and other female colleagues. Lacatus won this case as she was found to not be participating in similar behaviour with her colleagues – thus not contributing to the ‘banter’ – and that the terminology of ‘birds’ was found to be discriminatory against a protected characteristic, her gender.

The difference in these cases is the understanding between both parties of what is considered ‘banter’. A lack of control over banter in the workplace could lead to employers facing a number of issues including, absenteeism, resignations, grievances, harassment claims and poor working relationships amongst their team.

There are ways to control banter to ensure that all employees feel that they are treated equally and fairly in the workplace.

Employers should consider

  • Implementing clear policies on bullying and harassment and workplace banter. This will give all employees a standard of conduct to adhere to and ensure they know that they are aware of how to ask for help if they ever feel uncomfortable with how they have been treated or spoken to in the workplace.
  • Providing training for all employees. Courses such as how to develop good employee relations or equality, diversity and discrimination will help employees learn how to respect and understand one another in the workplace.
  • Managing grievances and claims of harassment effectively and in a timely manner. Employers should take disciplinary action where appropriate.

Employers should take a proactive approach to controlling workplace banter before it causes problems for their business. If you would like to provide your employees with training on workplace banter or could benefit from professional HR support on this issue, please get in touch and we will be happy to help!