Banter in the Workplace


The MIA recently read a thought provoking article written by the BBC, which explained how employees of Lloyd’s of London Insurance Market will see posters in the pubs close to their office which encourage them to ‘speak up against unacceptable behaviour’. This poster campaign is the latest attempt by Lloyd’s to stamp out a culture of sexism and bullying at the business, where 500 members of staff have reported witnessing instances of sexual harassment over the past year…

This got us thinking about our industry, which is rather prone to banter and having colleagues who often double up as friends. Workplace banter can actually have a positive effect on bonding and creating a fun workplace. Humour helps us to relax, and there is much to gain from having a relaxed environment, as increased morale leads to improved productivity and enhanced wellbeing among staff.

However, office, shop floor or warehouse banter can create a difficult environment for employers to manage. There’s always a line that can get crossed, when one person’s jokes become another person’s bullying, and it’s not always easy to know where the line is. Something deemed as banter to one individual has the potential to easily offend another.

So, with our Business Support Helpline partner, Croner, the MIA have put together some guidance to help employers in the music industry know how to manage situations and lay out rules to reduce risk.

“Employers are vicariously liable for any harm caused by banter that can be linked to the individual’s employment. This makes it even more important that they operate a stance which seeks to limit, or prohibit, banter at work.” Says Croner.

Here is an example of a ‘Banter’ Tribunal Case

A factory worker was awarded over £10,000 in compensation after being humiliated when her manager wrote a lewd comment in her 40th birthday card. This was the final straw for the worker, who had been subjected to daily comments of a sexual nature, and she resigned. The manager defended his comments by saying the worker herself joined in with the workplace ‘banter’. She successfully claimed sexual harassment at tribunal and was awarded damages for injury to feelings.

Employers can consider the following steps:

  • Reducing all “jokey behaviour” in the workplace will be difficult and policing this may be impossible. As a minimum, there should be clear rules about what is, and isn’t, acceptable to say at work. All staff should receive training on these rules, including managers.
  • Companies who operate a zero tolerance policy need to successfully implement this. Having an internal policy, providing training and taking disciplinary action for every incident will support this. It will be difficult to defend actions at tribunal when relying on a “zero tolerance stance” if similar acts have not been treated as seriously.
  • Explain to staff which events or occasions held outside of the workplace can be linked to their employment and remind them that company rules continue to apply during these times. Examples of these events include working lunches, client meetings, work-organised social events such as Christmas parties, and company away days.
  • Any banter that is connected to a protected characteristic, for example somebody’s age, sex or sexual orientation, could be classed as harassment by the person on the receiving end of the banter, or any other person who overhears or sees this. As such, employers should ensure their equality and diversity training expressly prohibits jokes about protected characteristics. Full investigations in to any reports should be carried out and disciplinary sanctions imposed to deter any other employees from engaging in this behaviour.
  • It’s important to remember that banter doesn’t only take place verbally; it can also occur in written communication such as emails, posters or even written messages on mugs. Employers should set clear rules about written communication and have an email policy that prohibits sending of inappropriate content or round robin emails.

In 2018, The ISM and the Musicians’ Union (MU), which jointly represent the interests of the UK’s professional musicians, launched a set of principles to ‘tackle and prevent bullying, harassment and discrimination in the music sector’. As you would expect, the MIA fully support this important Code of Practice for employers. You can read more here

Read ‘Speak up: Lloyd’s takes harassment crackdown to pubs’ here

For any advice or guidance on managing these incidents, or if you have wider HR queries, all MIA members have free access to Croner’s member support helpline. Email or call 01403 800500 for the exclusive Business Support Helpline scheme number.