With workplace litigation increasing and taunting often based on protected characteristics like race, nationality, age, or sex, the distinction between harmless teasing and destructive bullying is becoming increasingly important.
What distinguishes workplace joking from discrimination? How can you, as a manager or owner of a small company, teach your staff where the line is? How can you keep employees safe from offensive remarks made in the name of office joking, and if this does happen, how can you handle it so that it doesn’t end up in court?
What distinguishes workplace joking from discrimination?
In certain workplaces, jokes and banter may be more prevalent than in others. Banter is a term used informally to refer to jokes or lighthearted taunting. Although this may indicate a contented and carefree workforce, such behaviour may constitute harassment or discrimination, especially if done at another person’s cost.
People are protected against discrimination based on a “protected feature” under provisions in the Equality Act of 2010. Age, handicap, gender reassignment, marriage or civil union, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation are a few of these.
The statute protects people from receiving less favourable treatment because of a protected feature. The law forbids harassment as well. Using a protected trait in a way that violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, demeaning, hostile, offensive, or humiliating environment is what is referred to as this.
The line between friendly banter and discrimination is often decided on a case-by-case basis. Depending on what was said, who said it to, to whom, what it was about, and how it affected the person, it may be considered banter or prejudice. The impact on the person is what counts most, not whether or not the banter was harmless or not meant to offend.
How should employers teach their employees where the line is to be drawn?
Employers must avoid bullying and harassment in the workplace.
All employees should be required to attend workplace respect training regardless of their position or level of seniority. Additionally, frequent refresher training should be provided (at least every two years); depending just on outdated instruction is insufficient.
Managers should get more advice and training to help them recognize improper workplace behaviour and ensure that it is dealt with quickly. Poor behaviour is often avoidable if it is swiftly noticed and dealt with, particularly in a team context where it may be highly detrimental to workplace morale.
Respectful workplace culture development is crucial. Celebrate variety since varied businesses are often the most profitable and successful. So, instead of being too hesitant to speak out (perhaps out of fear of punishment from other team members), which unintentionally may complicate them, offer employees the skills and confidence to be able to.
All employees should be acquainted with a solid set of rules and/or a staff handbook to guarantee that everyone knows how to act at work.
How can businesses safeguard employees against cruel remarks made in the guise of office chitchat?
Employers have already implemented employee protection measures that provide training and have transparent policies on maintaining a respectful workplace. The expectations for staff behaviour should be communicated to them.
It is hoped that an awkward situation when joking has gone too far and offended someone may be settled amicably. Management training is essential in these situations to arbitrate and ensure all parties understand why the behaviour was wrong or harmful and why it should not occur again. It can be necessary to apologize to the affected employee and remind the offender of their training and the pertinent business regulations.
It will be acceptable to handle the problem officially in line with the applicable corporate processes, such as the disciplinary policy, in more serious circumstances when the banter is discriminatory or potentially discriminating or has caused considerable distress.
What should be done if workplace banter exceeds the line, so it doesn’t end up in court?
It will be required to adhere to the firm’s disciplinary policy if the matter cannot be resolved amicably or is serious enough to warrant a reaction under company policy.
It is inappropriate for an employer to stop an employee from filing employment tribunal claims since every employee has the right to do so if they want.
According to the employer’s grievance procedure, an aggrieved employee may file a grievance. Then, without undue delay, their employer must take fast action to investigate the complaint using the proper procedures. It is crucial to ensure the employee is informed about the investigation’s progress and anticipated end date.
Depending on the results of the inquiry, the employer will need to decide what course of action is best. The employer has to take appropriate action, but they should be attentive and considerate when communicating their choice to the employee. Whether or if it is feasible to reconcile a strained working relationship between the affected parties will depend heavily on the suggestions arising from a grievance inquiry.
If it is determined that the banter was engaged in and constituted misconduct or gross misconduct, the employer should begin disciplinary action against the offender.