Workplace Banter V Bullying: Employers must know the difference!

workplace banter

Tribunals have seen a 45% increase in cases relating to workplace banter, where an employee has felt they are being harassed/bullied in the workplace.

ACAS highlight that there is ‘no legal definition of bullying but is unwelcomed behaviour from individuals/groups of people deemed intimidating, malicious, or offensive to another individual.

One employee may think it is workplace banter whilst another employee sees it as bullying, this creates a grey area due to it being subjective to the employee who is the centre of the workplace banter.  Employers must be proactive in their approach to workplace banter, decreasing the risk of employees filing claims of bullying or harassment.

Good workplace banter can positively affect company culture, helping to develop workplace relationships and improving team contributions and collaboration abilities.  However, there is a fine line between good and bad banter, including if the joke is related to protected characteristics or if the ‘joke’ is repeated multiple times.

Protecting your business against claims relating to workplace banter

Bullying and Harassment policies

Implementing policies for bullying and harassment is essential for minimising claims in the workplace, these should be highlighted to employees. Policies ensure that an employee can be held accountable for their actions toward another employee or generally about their conduct within the workplace.

The bullying and harassment policy should be within the employee handbook, this should be given to the employee on the first day of employment and signed to give the business extra coverage.  Employers/managers should point out the company’s policies on inclusion, equality, and diversity alongside bullying and harassment, bringing the spotlight on these incidents can reduce of occurrence.


Training managers and employees on inclusivity, focusing on appropriate behaviour in the workplace in particular good and bad banter in the workplace. Highlighting how employees can easily take offense to remarks/comments made or establishing if one particular employee is continually at the centre of ‘jokes’, employees should not be bystanders.

Creating a working culture where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns, can come from training employees on inclusivity as well as employers being proactive in dealing with workplace bullying and harassment.

If the business is an SME it may be beneficial to outsource bullying and harassment training, to help cover various angles and scenarios. Examples of different scenarios can help individuals relate to or identify issues in the workplace, the earlier they are identified can decrease the impact on company culture and the risk of grievances/claims being raised.

Taking claims of bullying seriously and taking action immediately is essential, an investigation is required to establish the nature and seriousness of the claims.

Workplace banter that led to claims of bullying

Crompton v Eden Staff Ltd saw a case of workplace banter amounting to age discrimination, Mrs. Crompton was dismissed from her role following an extended probationary period due to poor performance. Following the dismissal, Mrs. Crompton submitted a grievance based on “I feel you have treated me unfairly in connection with age discrimination” following comments made by Crompton’s manager if she had forgotten something, the comments included “Is it Alzheimer’s again?”

The manager admitted to the external HR consultant, that the comments were in fact said but in a manner that was jokey and friendly, however, Crompton had stated these comments occurred weekly. As stated above repeated jokes/banter can lead to hurt feelings especially as a protected characteristic was involved covered in The Equality Act 2010.

Mrs. Crompton had submitted claims of harassment and direct discrimination based on her age to the employment tribunal, leading to Mrs. Crompton being awarded £900 with an interest of £100.41 due to evidence suggesting “injury having been slight” alongside complaints not being reported at the time.

Make sure your business is proactive and on the right side of employment law

  1. By conducting policies indicating acceptable workplace behaviour.
  2. Providing training to managers and employees on appropriate and inappropriate behaviours within the workplace.
  3. Act immediately by beginning an internal investigation for any reports of bullying or harassment following the ACAS code of practice.
  4. Complaints must be taken seriously and cannot be ignored, dismissing claims as to the perception of them being workplace banter will leave the company in negative situations.

Workplace investigations

Workplace investigations can be stressful situations for everyone involved, following the correct process is critical. Contact us today to speak to our HR consultants, who will guide you and reassure you that correct procedures are being followed when investigating bullying and harassment claims.

Our HR team can also provide expert training on bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Contact us by emailing [email protected]

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