Friday, 21 April 2023 12:47

Inappropriate Behaviour

Inappropriate behaviour in the workplace has come under the spotlight once recently after CBI chief Tony Danker stepped down from his role following a slew of allegations. And, more latterly, this morning, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has made the decision to resign following disclosure of a report relating to accusations of bullying. Mr Raab has claimed that the bar for what constitutes bullying has been set too low.

In addition to these high profile cases, at HR Champions we’ve also experienced a spike in the number of incidents regarding inappropriate behaviour and comments for which we have been asked to provide support to clients.

Evidence suggests a number of reasons why we might be seeing this increase:

  • Victims and affected individuals are more courageous and willing to speak out
  • Individuals are more aware of what does or has potential to be inappropriate behaviour
  • Individuals are more ready to take offence, possibly a side-effect of the proliferation of social media

It has long been established that it is how comments and behaviour are received rather than how they are intended that determines whether or not they are offensive or inappropriate. Referring to an off-hand comment as being intended simply as a joke or passed off as banter probably won’t stand up in tribunal if an individual is truly offended by it.

Banter is only banter if everyone is genuinely 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.

Individuals can also be affected indirectly by comments and incidents. A laddish comment made amongst an all-male group of similar backgrounds may appear innocent amongst those present, however we may not know what friends or relations people present have outside of that group. And this applies to any group of similar individuals, regardless of gender, race, age etc.

Amongst the allegations made against Mr Danker of the CBI was a claim from a fellow female employee that Mr Danker had made unwanted contact that she said amounted to sexual harassment. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 earlier this week, Mr Danker defended his position stating that he had approached numerous employees, both male and female, to meet outside of work in order to garner a true understanding of the workforce and their attitudes towards the CBI. Mr Danker’s superiors were fully aware of his actions and his approach.

If Mr Danker was speaking truthfully, this is a classic example of behaviour that, despite it’s absolute best intentions, was construed as something sinister by the person on the receiving end.

It is also interesting that the CBI is piling so much at the door of Mr Danker, trashing his reputation in the process. This may be an attempt to avoid vicarious liability, which is where an organisation can be held accountable for the actions of one of its employees. By heaping the blame onto Mr Danker, the CBI is trying to swerve any accusations that it was the culture of the organisation that was to blame for complaints about behaviour, including one report of rape, that it received.

The rape accusation was not against Mr Danker and was made before his time in charge. However the messaging in the media is very confused and understandably, Mr Danker has chosen to go public and defend his reputation.

Dominic Raab’s claim that the threshold for bullying is set too low will probably hold sway with a lot of people. Differentiating between bullying and a robust management style might sometimes come down to very fine margins. Clear and unambiguous policies and performance management practices are key, along with clear parameters as to what good behaviour looks like. That they are applied consistently is crucial. Even so, it might just come down to the view of the Tribunal judge on the day should a case ever get that far.

For your own organisation, our Dignity at Work training is a good place to start. Not only will it educate your team about what is and isn’t generally considered to be acceptable behaviour, implementing the training will show you are taking appropriate steps that will help you avoid a vicarious liability charge of your own.

Guidelines over sexual harassment are about to be reformed through parliament, including new harsher sentences for offenders. We’ll be blogging about this once it’s finalised. In the meantime you can contact us on 01452 331331 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Read 636 times Last modified on Friday, 21 April 2023 13:14


HR Champions provide first class HR and Employment Law support and advice to UK businesses; operationally and strategically. If you're an employer you'll potentially need some, if not all, of the services we offer.

We deliver excellent management and soft skills training suitable for all organisational levels. We are ILM and City & Guild accredited and Ken Blanchard approved.  





We are located in Gloucester in the West of the UK close to the M4 and M5 corridors. For a precise map and directions find us on Google Maps

We have clients all over the UK but predominantly within about an hour's drive time of our offices; in Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Bristol and Swindon & Wiltshire.