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It’s just banter, isn’t it? Or is it harassment?

two employees not get along

When one person’s banter is another’s harassment

Having a good joke with colleagues can develop bonds between staff, and can contribute to a friendly, relaxed working environment, as well as increasing morale and productivity.

Whilst friendly banter and humour can help to build camaraderie amongst colleagues, it can be difficult to judge where the line is between friendly banter and harassment.

Something one person finds humorous can be humiliating or harassing to others and it’s important to consider the impact the behavior is having on the recipient.  If it makes someone feel uncomfortable, offended or is interfering with their work, then it may cross the line into harassment.

So, what is ‘harassment’?

Harassment under the Equality Act 2010 is a type of discrimination.   It is unwanted behaviour resulting in the employee feeling that their dignity has been violated, or that creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.  The behaviour can amount to harassment regardless of whether the effects are intended or not.

Some important things to note:

  • Where sufficiently serious, a one-off incident can amount to harassment.
  • The recipient doesn’t need to make the harasser aware their conduct is unwanted before it being considered so.
  • Conduct can amount to harassment if it is related to a relevant protected characteristic. For example, teasing an employee about their sexual orientation, or homophobic banter that might not offend a person who is gay, but that other staff find offensive (regardless of their sexual orientation).
  • It is important to consider that banter may not be unwanted previously but may become unwanted and so employers shouldn’t conclude that if an employee has previously put up with, or joined in with banter, then the conduct isn’t unwanted.

Employers should be mindful that they can be liable for their employees’ acts of harassment.  They are under a duty to do everything they reasonably can to prevent harassment in the workplace. Acts of bullying and harassment may be committed by managers, employees or third parties e.g. customers or suppliers. The fact that the employer didn’t know that the act or acts took place is no defence – the employer must show that it did everything it reasonably could have been expected to do to prevent the act or acts occurring in the first place.

Ways to prevent workplace banter from becoming harassment

  • Establishing clear dignity at work and equal opportunities policies, outlining behaviour considered to be harassment and consequences for violating the policies as well as communicating them to all employees and ensuring they are easily accessible.
  • Encouraging employees to report incidents of harassment and making it clear that retaliation for reporting harassment will not be tolerated.
  • Promptly and thoroughly investigating all incidents.
  • Taking appropriate actions based on the findings. This may include disciplinary action up to including termination.
  • Following up with the person who made the complaint to ensure the harassment has stopped and to address any other concerns they may have.
  • Providing regular training for all employees on the topic of harassment – myHRdept run regular 1 hour sexual harassment training and a longer programme on discrimination in the workplace see our training programmmes here: https://www.myhrdept.co.uk/latest_news/management-training-dates-2023/ You may also like to use our Banter video Banter! – YouTubeas part of your workplace training schedule – this could be shown to new employees on induction and all employees from time to time.

myHRdept can supply these policies (and many more) in the form of a staff handbook.  We can also provide relevant training, as well as assisting with or carrying out any necessary investigations.

Need to keep abreast of HR developments?

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If you’re thinking of outsourcing your HR, payroll or employment law needs, why not contact myHRdept? Call us on 01628 820515, email us at enquiries@myhrdept.co.uk to discuss your requirements, or contact us via our website and we’ll call you back.

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