The UK has a culture that has woven banter into common social practice. Hence, it is no surprise that this also translates into the work setting. Understanding banter as an essential part of communication for Brits, Preply has surveyed on the matter. Through this, they discovered that 40% of employees think that workplace banter is only appropriate when it is lighthearted.
Navigating social situations in the workplace can differ from personal interactions. Generally, there is an understanding that there are certain boundaries for workplace socialisation. However, given the nature of banter, certain forms of it may be deemed unacceptable in a workplace setting.
Preply Survey Findings
Preply conducted a survey involving 1,511 UK citizens aged 16 and older. The goal was to uncover which cities and regions in the UK are the most skilled at bantering and to understand people’s attitudes toward bantering in different situations.
53% believe that people are good at banter. When it comes to banter excellence, Belfast takes the crown as the UK’s banter capital, with 76% of locals claiming to excel in it.
Interestingly, 45% of respondents find that bantering serves as an effective tension reliever in tricky situations, while over half (52%) use it to bring a smile to someone’s face. Even in personal relationships, banter plays a role, with 30% of Brits engaging in playful exchanges with their partners.
Most of these lively exchanges, about 48%, happen at the neighbourhood pub. Regarding banter styles, sarcasm and irony take the lead, favoured by 33% of Brits for adding wit and humour to their conversations.
In the workplace, 40% believe that as long as it stays light-hearted, banter is acceptable.
Workplace Banter or Covering Harassment?
In a professional setting, given the playful and humorous nature of banter, it may be difficult to distinguish which banter is acceptable and not. Banter often involves jokes, sarcasm and digs at other people – and this may become a grey area that can conceal harassment.
As defined in Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010, harassment is when an individual engages in unwelcome behaviour related to a protected characteristic (or of a sexual nature) with the intention or result of undermining the dignity of another person or creating an environment that feels intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive to them.
There are varying outcomes of Employment Tribunals that involve employers citing workplace banter as a defence.
The ‘banter’ defence was successfully applied in Evans v. Xactly Corporation Ltd. Mr Evans alleged harassment related to his disability and race due to comments like “fat ginger pikey.” However, the Employment Tribunal found a culture of office banter, including Mr Evans engaging in similar behaviour, which led to the conclusion that these comments didn’t violate his dignity or create an offensive environment.
In contrast, there have been cases in which the workplace banter defence didn’t hold up. For instance, in Austin v. Samuel Grant (North East) Ltd, Mr. Austin faced harassment based on his sexual orientation because he expressed a dislike for football and was labelled as “homosexual” and “gay” by his colleagues. Similarly, in Robson v. Clarke’s Mechanical Ltd, the employer’s attempt to defend the use of the nickname “half-dead Dave” due to age was met with scepticism by the Employment Tribunal.
What Employers Can Do
- Increase Employee Awareness and Liability
Employers must ensure employees understand workplace standards as they are typically liable for claims arising from colleagues’ behaviour. Failing to address unprofessional conduct can lead to financial liability.
- Establish Effective Policies
Employers should establish and update clear policies on equality, diversity, anti-harassment, and bullying. Employees need to know these policies and the consequences of violations.
- Training for Awareness
Providing equality and diversity training through webinars, seminars, or external consultants helps employees understand policies. It doesn’t eliminate financial risks but can mitigate issues related to vicarious liability.
- Addressing Social Media and Communication
Employers should have clear policies on social media use and consider email and communication monitoring, with employee consent, to prevent inappropriate behaviour and gather evidence when needed.
- Managing Internal Complaints
Employers should handle internal complaints according to their grievance policies, following the Acas Code of Conduct to avoid potential compensation increases.
For more information on workplace harassment, or any inquiries, head to the Redmans website.