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Office banter- when to draw the line

Whether or not you mean to, just about everyone takes part in office banter. But when does it cross the line? There have been many occasions when workplace comments have landed companies in hot water. In some cases, leading to employment tribunals.

The difficulty is that there is often a grey area surrounding what is deemed as ‘respectful’ or ‘responsible’ when banter is involved. What may be said in jest by one party could be hurtful or even considered discriminatory to others. Legislation is in place protecting characteristics such as sexual orientation, gender, and race under the Employment Equality Act 1998.

This helps to provide clarity in obvious or extreme cases, but sometimes it is subtler than that. A box of chocolates given playfully on Valentine’s Day: what is one person’s joke could be construed as harassment by the recipient, especially if it is part of a pattern of unwanted attention. What started as a bit of fun could spiral into an extremely expensive box of chocolates in the courts. With more and more people working longer hours at work, it is inevitable that professional and personal lives will overlap on occasion.

Therefore, employers should be wary of negative posts or jokes on social media as these can have a potentially harmful impact on your organisation. After all that is said, banter can play an important positive role in the workplace. It can boost morale, create employee cohesion and help form a dynamic and flourishing culture. These in turn could aid recruitment and lower employee turnover. It is a fine balance to strike and one thing that can help is having polices in place that cover the issue. They can help prevent banter from getting out of hand, and give you a clear framework for dealing with an unpleasant situation should it arise.

If you need help addressing the issues raised in this blog for your business, talk to The HR Dept, we can help with policies and guidance on culture.