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When ‘Banter’ crosses the line

05 Dec 2018

“It’s just banter, mate!” If you work in any kind of environment, from an office to a building site, you’ll be familiar with the term ‘banter’. It’s that humorous back and forth we all use to make the day a little brighter, to have a laugh with our colleagues, and to generally brighten up the working environment. But is it ‘just banter’, or could it be something more harmful?

Workplace banter has its place. However, the term ‘banter’ should never be used as an excuse to humiliate, upset or abuse someone else. What may seem like ‘banter’ to one person could be deeply offensive or upsetting to someone else. This is when banter can cross the line into abuse and bullying.

Unfortunately there are a lot of ‘grey areas’ when it comes to the definition of what is reasonable or appropriate behaviour, and that includes banter. The Equality Act 2010 says that a complainant’s reaction to what is termed ‘unwanted conduct’ (which includes verbal banter) has to be reasonable. So in this instance, context is very important.

Banter can very easily turn into bullying, especially if it’s relentlessly targeted at an individual. Once others join in, this mob bullying can become not only deeply upsetting but frightening and intensely intimidating. If that is the case then what may have started out as a bit of banter has most definitely crossed the line. In this case, the victim has the right to go to a senior manager, their union representative or HR department and register a complaint or grievance.

If the employer then fails to respond to bullying, there is the option of pushing for a tribunal hearing. Every employer has a duty of care to ensure the welfare of their staff. It’s also important that employers ensure that the working environment doesn’t become toxic for workers because of a misunderstanding of the line between ‘a bit of banter’ and workplace bullying.

Employers should therefore ensure that their equality and diversity policies are up to date and that awareness training is implemented for all staff. This will help to ensure that everyone understands what constitutes acceptable behaviour within the confines of the workplace and that ‘banter’ relating to personal charcteristics such as a person’s appearance, religious beliefs or sexuality is unacceptable. It is also essential that employer’s deal appropriately with any allegations of bullying or inappropriate behaviour.

For more information on any of the above, or how we can help you, please contact Sarah Hall, or call 0191 232 8345.