What Constitutes Office Banter and a Claim for Discrimination/harassment?

Following on from the previous legal update regarding office banter there has recently been heightened media coverage in regards to Charlotte Proudman’s outing a fellow lawyer regarding inappropriate comments.

Recently, barrister Charlotte Proudman used the social media Twitter to post what she had described as a sexist message which she had received from a fellow lawyer on LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is used by many professionals to help broaden their professional network.

Charlotte Proudman received a message which made comment to her profile picture, describing the picture as “stunning” she replied to the message stating she was on LinkedIn for business purposes and not to be approached by “sexist men”.


 
Comparable comments in the work place can lead to discrimination and harassment claims which incurs costs in defending the claim and damage to the employer’s reputation. Within the cases below, the tribunal noted the lack of discrimination and harassment training within the company’s.

In the recent case of Minto v Wenick Event Hire Ltd, the claimant a female employee received daily remarks that were of the same sexual nature as from the “Carry On” films. During the tribunal, her manager gave evidence that banter which including strong language was part of everyday fact of life.

The tribunal found that this did amount to sex discrimination and harassment.

The tribunal said: “‘Banter’ is a loose expression, covering what otherwise might be abusive behaviour on the basis that those participating do so willingly and on an equal level. It can easily transform into bullying when a subordinate employee effectively has no alternative but to accept/participate in this conduct to keep his or her job.”

Another recent case were an employee was compared to the women on the TV programme “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” was held to be harassed. In the case of Harper v Housing 21 the claimant which was Irish complained about her line Manager’s attitude. Her line Managers behaviour included repeatedly likening the Claimant to the women on the TV programme, although the line Manager said her comments were office banter and was not intended to cause any malice.

The employment tribunal upheld claims of direct race discrimination, racial harassment and constructive dismissal.


 

Authors: Roxanne Bradley

Published: 09 Dec 2015

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