Friday, 22 April 2022 09:21

Calling Time on Banter

A recent Employment Tribunal has found in favour of a female employee who claimed she had been sexually discriminated against by her boss who frequently referred to her as “good girl” and harassed her to change her profile images on social media to ones in which she looked more attractive [to her boss]. The tribunal dismissed the defence that the behaviour was merely banter; a point that we should all take note of.

In his summing up in the case of Ms Frances Fricker vs Gartner UK Ltd, the Tribunal judge said “Language evolves over time. Words and phrases that might once have seemed harmless are now regarded as racial, homophobic and sexist slurs.” This is something we already know of course, but this case brings it once again to the fore.

If you really want to read the full case records you can do so here, but it’s not the finer details of this particular case that we’re interest in here. Instead, we want to highlight two significant points that come from it:

  • We must be fully aware of the language we use and any potential discomfort, distress or offence that it may cause to others
  • A culture of what might be described as “laddish” behaviour is strewn with potential pitfalls and should be monitored to ensure no individuals are adversely affected

Banter is only banter if everyone is truly involved in it and there is no target or victim. Even then, some individuals may join in because they are afraid of being singled out or becoming a target if they demonstrate or voice that they are uncomfortable or don’t agree with what is being said or implied.

As the judge in this case went on to say, “Some phrases, whilst not regarded as taboo, are generally regarded as inappropriate in the workplace. Referring to a woman in her late-30s with a school-age child as a girl is demeaning.”
Decerning what and what does not cross the banter line can be a tricky thing to do. Retaining an upbeat and light-hearted atmosphere in the workplace is usually in the employer’s interest as it means employees are happy, productive and want to come into work. Managers need to be wary however that no individual is consistently the butt of jokes and comments to the point that the banter degrades into bullying.

Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe and comfortable environment for workers, so if there is any inkling that an individual is uncomfortable with comments made “in jest”, then it’s incumbent on that person’s manager to take them to one side and give them the opportunity to be frank and honest about their feelings and to ensure that they are not offended.

Remember too that individuals can be affected indirectly by comments and events. So, whilst a laddish comment made amongst an all-male group of similar backgrounds may appear innocent amongst those present, we may not know what friends or relations people within that group have have. Furthermore, this applies to any group of similar individuals, regardless of gender, race etc.

We constantly advise employers and business owners to regularly review whether their Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) policies are alive and kicking or are simply a tick-box exercise gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. Now seems like a good time to raise it again.

The Fricker vs Gartner case is in line with other socially aware changes we are seeing, and employers need to ensure that leaders and senior managers are role modelling appropriate behaviours, holding others to account and genuinely striving to create a truly inclusive work environment for all.

As usual, we're here to support with your organisation's own EDI policies and practices or if you just want to talk through the trends and changes that we're seeing in the world of employment and HR. If there is anything you need support and guidance with then please get in touch on 01452 331331 and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Read 1312 times Last modified on Friday, 22 April 2022 10:11


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