The World of Work by Harry Sherrard

“It’s not harassment, it’s only banter.”

As employment lawyers, probably our least favourite word is banter. Countless times over the years we have heard the perpetrators of harassment of various kinds dismiss their behaviour as “only banter.” The word hit the headlines this month in a report about shocking bullying and harassment in fire services throughout the UK. Despite extensive evidence of misogynistic and racist comments and conduct, the predominantly white male senior staff disturbingly, but sadly predictably, dismissed allegations of harassment as merely workplace banter.

Anti-harassment workplace legislation has been in place for decades, but in many workplaces the culture lags far behind. The Equality Act in 2010 strengthened the legislation by introducing the concept of protected characteristics, including gender, race and religion, and legislating that words or conduct which created a hostile, offensive or intimidating environment on the grounds of one of the protected characteristics is unlawful. The legal pathway is clear and serious cases regularly result in five figure awards.

But employers’ liability for unlawful harassment perpetrated by staff on fellow employees is not absolute. The employer has available the “reasonable steps” defence. This requires the employer to demonstrate that the appropriate culture and policies have been implemented in the workplace, along with anti-harassment training. In a harassment case, if the tribunal is satisfied that the employer has taken these reasonable steps to prevent harassment, but an incident has nonetheless occurred, the individual perpetrator, rather than the employer, becomes liable for any financial compensation.

To aid employers in ending the “it’s not harassment, it’s only banter” culture, and in so doing equip our clients with a “reasonable steps” defence should they need it, we have developed an interactive, 1 hour online anti-banter training course. This has already been delivered to staff employed by a wide range of organisations throughout the UK and has been very well received. To find out more about this course please send an email to

If you would like further information on any of the topics detailed in this blog please email or call the office on 01273 834120 to talk to a member of our team.

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