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Workplace Banter

Much can be gained in having a relaxed work place environment where employees can talk and express opinions freely to each other however with workplace banter there is a very fine line which can easily be crossed and turn banter into unlawful bullying and harassment even if the purpose was not to cause offence.


There have been a couple of recent cases which both started off as simple banter and humour at work, but both Claimants won their cases at an employment tribunal.

In the case of Ms J Prewett v Green King Services Ltd 2019, a pub manager was being subjected to jokes with sexual innuendos. This was deemed offensive even though the intention was a joke. Ms Prewett won at Tribunal and was given an award of £5000. 

In Mr A Leader Vs Leeds City Council 2019, Mr Leader described himself as Afro – Caribbean. He was subject to racist comments by another employee. The Tribunal found that the Respondent did everything they could to inhibit any racist behaviour within the workplace and thus were not to blame, however the Tribunal found the employee who had made the remarks, personally liable and ordered him to pay £2,769.00 plus interest to the Claimant.  

In both of above cases, the comments made may not necessarily have been intended to be discriminatory, however workplace banter may in reality amount to unlawful workplace harassment where not only the employee who carried out the banter is liable to the victim but also more importantly the employer for the actions of their employee.

Do’s and Don’ts

Getting the balance right is tough and it’s important that employers recognise the serious impact it can have and put robust measures in place to make sure that any banter is kept within appropriate boundaries ensuring that it does not give rise to any discrimination claims

  • Be proactive, don’t wait before you have a Tribunal to act upon your processes. Appreciate that any negative banter that leads to a loss of confidence and resignations has a real impact on the bottom line.
  • Have clear policies on bullying, harassment, equality, diversity and inclusion. This is critical, so employees are accountable for their actions.
  • As well as having clear, transparent policies, there should be a mechanism to report such behaviour, employees should clearly know what to do if such scenarios happen. 
  • Be mindful that any unwelcome comments at work aren’t ‘just a bit of banter’ – they can sometimes form the basis of a legal claim. If an employee has not experienced something as a joke, then the environment can soon feel hostile for that person. 
  • Consider having equality and diversity training as part of your training package and training carried out on regular basis.

Hopefully by following the above guidelines, the employer could then be able to demonstrate that they had all the right policies and procedures in place to prevent such incidents from happening and thus not liable for the conduct of their employees.

If you need help and advice regarding workplace banter, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and litigation practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide. Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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