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01st June 2022

Why workplace banter isn’t always ‘just a bit of fun’

Employment tribunals have seen claims for bullying and harassment attributed to workplace ‘banter’ increase by 44% in the last year. Sarah J. Barker, Solicitor Apprentice at Napthens offers tips on how to keep it appropriate.

What is workplace ‘banter’?

Unfortunately, this is a grey area because what may be construed as ‘just a joke’ by one person may be taken as offensive by another. Banter can be healthy, good for morale and a form of release or coping mechanism for difficult jobs in fields such as social or health care. However, both employers and employees need to be aware of their responsibilities when it comes to managing culture within a workplace, particularly in difficult environments involving long, irregular shifts with a rotating group of colleagues.

What can employers do?

Employers need to address workplace banter to avoid a potential claim for harassment or bullying. Women are twice as likely as men to have been negatively affected by workplace banter, with one in 10 women citing it as a cause of mental health issues. It can also impact the bottom line for businesses if it leads to resignations and potentially pose as a reputational risk.

An employer can take practical measures to make sure banter is kept within appropriate boundaries:

  • Examine existing policies – be proactive and have clear policies on bullying, harassment, equality, diversity and inclusion and ensure they are publicised to employees. This is important as employers can be held liable for the actions of an employee or worker
  • Create awareness of workplace banter and a culture where people feel they can raise concerns and be seen to be inclusive and diverse
  • Hold inclusivity training and discuss what might be considered banter by some but leaves others feeling alienated

What can employees do?

  • It is important to remember that you are at work in an environment where you may not know people’s background or personal stories
  • Be a positive role model – lead by example
  • Make sure you read and understand your employer’s policies in relation to bullying, harassment, inclusion, and equality and diversity

Tips for differentiating between good and bad banter:

Good banter:

  • Treating others with respect
  • Having innocent fun and a laugh with your colleagues
  • Pulling together as a team in difficult times

Bad banter:

  • Is linked to sex, gender reassignment, race, age, disability, marriage or civil partnership, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity or religious/belief
  • A joke told to a group but has upset one – you shouldn’t have said it and need to apologise
  • Is held in an open environment – if someone’s in earshot and it upsets them, they are entitled to report it

If you have any queries or in need of specific advice in relation to any employment law query, please contact a member of the Napthens Employment Team who are able to offer 30 minutes of free advice to QCS members.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Napthens LLP

Employment Law Specialists

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