Employers – beware of permitting harmful workplace banter

Recent case shows what can be the cost of permitting workplace banter to employers and highlights the importance of providing regular training on the Equality Act in the workplace

In recent years, workplace culture has been under scrutiny, with increasing focus on fostering inclusive and respectful environments. A recent case highlights the potential risks associated with workplace banter and how seemingly harmless jokes can result in costly discrimination claims.

A UK firm found itself facing a discrimination claim costing them a substantial £15,400. The claimant alleged that they were subjected to offensive banter in the workplace when they were told “you dykes sit at the top” when discussing office seating plans. When she complained about this to the company, her employer said this was “workplace banter”. The claimant later resigned from the company and brought a claim against them. The tribunal found the company liable for failing to prevent the inappropriate behaviour, leading to this significant financial penalty.

Workplace banter, though often perceived as harmless, can quickly escalate into discriminatory behaviour. What may be intended as a joke could have a profoundly negative impact on an individual’s self-esteem, productivity, and overall well-being. Such conduct can create a hostile work environment, where employees may feel uncomfortable, excluded, or even harassed.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination based on various characteristics, including age, disability, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Employers have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination in the workplace, and this includes curbing offensive banter or jokes that may contribute to a discriminatory environment.

Creating a respectful and inclusive workplace requires proactive efforts from both employers and employees. Companies can help prevent workplace discrimination and foster a positive culture by implementing clear policies which explicitly address discrimination, harassment, and offensive behaviour, encourage reporting of the aforementioned behaviour, lead by example and provide the necessary training. Employers should encourage open communication, respect for diversity, and celebrate the uniqueness of each team member. Building a culture of respect will contribute to a positive work environment.

The cost of discrimination is not just financial; it can irreparably damage morale, productivity, and the reputation of the company. Embracing diversity and promoting a respectful environment is not only legally required but also essential for the success and growth of any organisation.

Our Employment Team works closely with businesses to deliver high-quality employment law training on the Equality Act direct to HR teams, business owners and key personnel that is insightful, engaging and relevant. The aim of the training is to provide people with a practical insight and for them to come away with a real understanding of the key topics discussed and how to apply this to their own workplace. It is recommended that employees undergo such training annually.

Please get in touch to discuss the training session requirements for your business.

If you require further guidance or would like further legal advice, call our multi-award-winning Employment team on 0333 323 5292 or



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