There’s often thought to be a fine line between what constitutes banter and what counts as bullying. Yet in the world of employment law, understanding your rights in the workplace is incredibly important.
An in-depth study by UK law firm, Irwin Mitchell, on quiet firing revealed that 32% of UK workers have experienced bullying disguised as banter. The study aims to explore common management failings, whether workers can identify unlawful behaviour towards themselves, as well as shedding light on solutions too.
The survey of 2,179 people revealed that certain demographics were more widely impacted by bullying disguised as banter:
- 45-54 years olds are the most likely age group to have experienced this type of bullying
- Workers in the North-West of England are the most likely to have experienced bullying disguised as banter (37%)
- Over 35% of women in the UK workplace have experienced bullying disguised as banter
The widespread nature of ‘banter’ across workplaces is concerning but also that it makes workers feel it’s simply something they should put up with. Irwin Mitchell wants to therefore raise awareness of the negative impact that this often-trivialized behaviour can have on an employee’s well-being, as well as how employers can help safeguard their employees.
Further detail within the research highlighted how bullying was more prevalent in certain industries:
- 50% of people in the sports industry have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- Nearly half of all people working in fine art have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- Those who studied music/arts are most likely to experience bullying disguised as banter when they start work (53%)
- 38% of people working in accounting/finance have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- 39% of people working in UK hospitality have experienced bullying disguised as banter
- 38% of people working in UK retail have experienced bullying disguised as banter
From a legal perspective, being able to identify unlawful behaviour in the workplace gives you the right to bring employment claims such as discrimination and constructive dismissal claims.
But how can you determine what is ‘unlawful’? Jo Moseley, an employment lawyer at Irwin Mitchell helped describe how ‘banter’ can become ‘bullying’:
“Harassment of a worker occurs when a person engages in unwanted conduct which is related to one of the seven protected characteristics and has the purpose or effect of:
- Violating the worker’s dignity or
- Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that worker.
Unwanted conduct covers a wide range of behaviour, including spoken or written words or abuse, imagery, graffiti, physical gestures, facial expressions, mimicry, jokes, pranks and other physical behaviour. The conduct may be blatant (for example, overt bullying), or more subtle (for example, ignoring or marginalising an employee). The word ‘unwanted’ means essentially the same as ‘unwelcome’ or ‘uninvited’. ‘Unwanted’ does not mean that someone must object to the conduct first. Some types of conduct will, self-evidently, be unwanted.”
Head to Irwin Mitchell’s website their full findings on Banter vs Bullying in the workplace.