Its just Banter – By Eluned Ward

How many times have you heard the expression ‘its just banter’?  The expression makes whatever has happened seem a bit of harmless fun but because humour is subjective organisations what one person sees as a bit of fun and everyone is getting on, another person can have a very different view of the situation.

Banter and humour in the workplace can be a good way for teams to form and bond and very few people want to work in an organisation which is muted.  However as organisation, managers have a duty of care to ensure banter does not cross the line and end up being perceived as bullying.  In 2014 Stena Line Irish Sea Ferries had to pay £45,000 to a former employee after he was dismissed for reacting to homophobic abuse.  It was reported that quips by his former colleagues included “some people in here should out of the closet” and calling him a “fruit”.  The findings from the tribunal stated that Stena Line had “adopted a far too passive approach to unpleasant banter”. Another recent case in early 2015, found that office banter had crossed from bullying into sexual discrimination which resulted in the claimant being awarded £3.2 million.

So what do organisations need to do:

  • Look to introduce equal opportunity, anti bullying/harassment and/or dignity at work policies which outlines the organisation’s zero tolerance to unacceptable behaviour
  • Train managers on the policies and give them the skills and confidence to intervene early if they witness unacceptable behaviour
  • Make sure both the policies and any training give practical examples of what is unacceptable i.e. the use of nicknames.
  • Make employees aware of what is expected of them and the consequences of going too far. By providing training, making the policies easily accessible and on show for people to see
  • Make it easy for employees to raise any issues or concerns and take any complaints seriously.
  • Investigate any complaints, whether in writing or verbal, fully and keep a record of the investigation.
  • Instigate any formal disciplinary procedures if somebody is found to continually be overstepping the mark

Overall the senior management team have to set the standards and culture expected within an organisation and lead by example.  Even if this means challenging the high performers that overstep the mark – its no good excusing the behaviour by saying ‘it just them being them and they don’t mean anything by it” because an organisation is worried about upsetting a high earner.    The co-head of Deutshce Bank investment bank division took the unusual step of sending a video of to all his staff regarding the banter due to various reports in the national press which was extremely direct and ends with “I need you to exercise good sense and sound judgement.  Think carefully about what you say and how you say it.  If not, it will have serious consequences for you personally’

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