According to researchers at GQ Littler, workplace ‘banter’ has played a key part in the 45% increase in Tribunal claims against employers between 2020 and 2021. Claims such as these are made under the Equality Act 2010, which is designed to protect individuals from discrimination, harassment and victimisation in relation to: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
While some employees or employers may consider the ‘banter’ to be part of the workplace atmosphere, it may be discrimination, harassment or victimisation under the Equality Act 2010. An example of this is the case of Frances Fricker v Gartner UK Ltd 3303546/2019 and 3326025/2019, where a woman in her late thirties won a Tribunal claim for sexual harassment after being referred to by her line manager as ‘good girl’. The judge in the Tribunal case concluded that “referring to a woman in her late-30s with a school-aged child as a girl is demeaning”. It is therefore important for employers to ensure the workplace culture is regularly monitored and instances mentioned in the above case, for example, are not tolerated.
Defending cases for discrimination, victimisation, and harassment is expensive and time-consuming for employers and it is therefore crucial for employers to try to mitigate the risk. Steps to mitigate these risks could include: robust policies in the form of a workplace handbook and consistent diversity and equality training for all staff. These handbook policies could include: anti-bullying and harassment; grievance, and disciplinary policies. It is important to consider that it may not be the employee who is subject to the discrimination, victimisation or harassment and it is important that policies reflect that other members of staff who witness such behaviour can also raise concerns through policies the employer has compiled.
If a workplace handbook is something you are interested in, please contact us, and we can provide specialist advice.