Office banter becomes harassment

In a workplace it’s common for colleagues to have conversation, play practical jokes or have “banter” but there is a fine line as to when this may be seen as harassment.

Harassment can occur in three ways, under the Equality Act 2010:

A commits harassment against B if A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose of effect or violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B this covers unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or which is related to gender reassignment or sex.

For example, this could include an employer or a fellow employee displaying any material of a sexual nature such as a topless calendar, this could be harassing other employees where this creates an offensive place to work for any employee, female or male.

Another example may be where a colleague has the intention of carrying out a “joke” such as dropping items for other colleagues to bend over and pick up or creating office “banter” making inappropriate comments regarding a colleagues appearance or gestures relating to their sex or even wolf whistling can be all regarded as harassment.

If the person is offended or upset by something which was intended to be a joke or “banter” it is still likely to be judged to have had the prohibited purpose or effect which means it is likely to be regarded as harassment.

An employer will be liable for the acts of its employees which can include paying out compensation which has no limit. 

Lawgistics members can get guidance on harrasment and disciplinary procedures from the Legal Team.

Authors: Roxanne Bradley

Published: 07 Jul 2015


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