Partners Joseph Lappin and Charlie Thompson spoke to City AM as part of commentary that employees should keep common sense in mind and err on the side of caution when joking around their colleagues.

The article, published in full online and on the front page of City AM’s print edition, noted that a rise in employees taking offence to comments made in the workplace has resulted in more people going through grievance procedures internally or even bringing legal proceedings.

In a high-profile example, a councillor was assigned a ‘behaviour mentor’ and put through DEI training by Dorset council after repeatedly mimicking a colleague’s Irish accent over eight years of working together. Councillor Bill Pipe’s argument that he did not realise his colleague was offended and that it was just ‘humorous banter’ did not hold water with a disciplinary committee, which found that Pipe’s actions amounted to bullying and harassment.


Charlie says:

“If accused of bullying or harassment, it is rarely a strong defence to say it was just ‘banter’. And whilst it’s very common not to realise that you’re causing offence or upset, that isn’t a watertight defence. The longstanding definition of harassment in the Equality Act 2010 looks at the ‘effect’ of the conduct – so even if it wasn’t the intention to cause upset, it might still be harassment.

Most employers have codes of conduct and policies which prohibit bullying and harassment. And if an allegation is raised, the employer has to investigate it. In the cold light of an investigation, context and nuance can get lost.

Some might complain that they don’t know what is acceptable to say in the modern workplace.  This is where equality, diversity and inclusion training has a role to play. Whilst it is sneered at by some, and the quality varies massively, if training is done well, it’s helpful for everyone.

And to anyone who is unsure whether it’s appropriate to say something in the workplace, I’d suggest if in doubt, don’t say it.”


Joseph says:

“There is often a fine line between ‘workplace banter’ and harassment. Mimicking a colleague’s accent or making jokes about their sexuality or age is rarely on the right side of the line and in most cases will amount to harassment, which in broad terms is unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating the complainant’s dignity or creating an intimidating or humiliating environment.

Simply because an individual has put up offensive remarks or mimicking doesn’t mean the conduct is unwanted. Often individuals will put up with bad conduct because they are worried about making a complaint or developing a reputation as a ‘troublemaker’. This often happens when the ‘offender’ is senior and the ‘victim’ is a junior employee. There is often a tipping point with these things and when an individual can’t take anymore and raises a grievance or complaint with their employer the fact that they didn’t raise complaints at an earlier stage won’t get the ‘offender’ off the hook.”



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