09 Feb

Jokes and banter in the workplace can be beneficial for a number of reasons. It can strengthen employee relationships thus increasing staff retention. Jokes help to ease tension, creating a more positive and comfortable working environment which decreases stress, improves wellbeing, business efficiency and overall productivity. 

Not everyone has the same sense of humor therefore they will not take jokes in the same way or the way the individual intended them to. In many cases a joke can only go so far until it is taken as harassment or bullying. Some individuals may feel targeted or threatened, causing them to feel unhappy and dread coming to work. This can negatively impact the workplace, such as grievances needing to be raised, which raises concern for employers to consider how they solicit workplace banter to keep the working environment positive and optimal for business. 

Every employee has the right to be always treated fairly and respectfully however this is not always the case. This is highlighted by the 37% of employees that have been subjected to workplace bullying or harassment and the 25% that have felt left out at work. 


 Bullying is the repeated, unwanted maltreatment or behaviors. There are multiple forms of bullying, all of which can make an employee feel victimized, distressed, uncomfortable, upset, and intimidated. Some examples of bullying include: 

  • Targeting someone through an unkind “joke” or “banter” and the overuse of said joke. The victim of the joke may have found it amusing initially but the overuse of the joke has escalated its meaning. Similarly, repeated mocking of an employee could lead to increased personality insecurity which can negatively impact wellbeing thus business productivity; the joke is taken too far to the extent that it is no longer funny but harmful.
  • Physical violence (or threats of it)
  • Increasing an employee’s workload to an unfair and unfeasible volume. This usually occurs in the case of employees who are a senior role to the victim, offloading work onto them.
  • Defamation of character through false rumors spread with malicious intent
  • Heavily criticizing an employee- anything from criticism of the work the produce to their actions, behaviors, or appearance.
  • humiliating or patronizing an employee repeatedly
  • inconsistent workplace practices. For example, singling out an employee and targeting them with discipline for the same action/behavior that another employee was let off for.

 Furthermore, the 2010 Equality Act outlines that harassment is unwanted behavior that relates to gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity/age/religion/disability/pregnancy and maternity. 

Bullying: remote working

 It is important to note that not all bullying takes place face-to-face. With the rise of remote working, post-pandemic; cyber bullying is becoming more common. For example, bullying could take place over social media, email, or text. This highlights the need for more awareness on spotting the signs of cyber bullying in addition to thorough policies and procedures to be in place to ensure all cases are dealt with in a fair and sanely manor. As you can probably imagine, spotting cyber bullying of remote workers is far more difficult as they are not situated in employers’/managers’ daily gaze therefore it can easily go unnoticed. It is important that employers and managers are trained sufficiently to be able to spot and understand the potential signs of bulling whilst their employees are working remotely and what to do in the case of remote bullying allegations. Signs of employees being victims of bullying whilst working remotely: 

  • underperformance in tasks that individuals would usually excel in. bullying can decrease confidence, self-esteem, motivation and therefore productivity and performance.
  • Lack of engagement. Bullying can cause the mind to wander, causing difficulty to concentrate on a work task as it occupies all their thoughts
  • Tired and irritable. The two go hand-in-hand as a lack of sleep tends to cause irritability. Bullying can cause the victim’s mind to be constantly thinking about it, to the point that it causes them trouble trying to sleep as they are kept awake worrying, for example. This can then cause them to appear somewhat “snappy” or “short-tempered” as they are more likely to produce and emotional response. These deciphers of bullying are slightly easier to spot as noticing darker eyes and yawning in addition to irritable, snappy responses are visible in virtual meetings
  • Lastly, a lack of confidence may be a more noticeable giveaway for louder characters as it is a more obvious change in their nature if they become quiet and reserved abruptly.

What to do if a bullying/harassment complaint arises

 First and foremost, employers need to have well-informed anti bullying/harassment policy in place in addition to a clear procedure/process for if these issues arise and escalation is required. All employees and managers must be aware of the policy and trained on it. This will enable all cases are taken seriously and are dealt with in a fairly and sound manor. Employers should also promote a respectful working culture which all employees from seniors down embrace. For example, treating employees with the utmost respect will encourage them to treat their superiors with respect back; treat people how you want to be treated as the saying goes! In the instance of a bullying or harassment, we recommend employees to address the issue with their HR or immediate manager (or a more senior manager if their immediate manager is involved) by putting their grievance into writing which kick starts the grievance process. 

The grievance processes

Stage 1:

  • After addressing the issue with the appropriate manager in writing, themselves or HR will arrange a meeting to discuss the grievance matters usually within 5 working days of receiving the complaint. This meeting will provide an opportunity for the employee to explain the situation and how they wish for it to be resolved. The appropriate manager should then listen carefully, without judgement and make detailed notes on the situation in the initial conversation to avoid distress through repeating the events over if further investigation is needed.
  • After the investigation, the employee should be notified of the outcome and any actions that will be taken to resolve the grievance. This is done via writing and usually within 5 days of the initial meeting however if it is expected to be longer, the employee will be notified.
  •  At this stage, employees should be informed of their right to appeal if they are dissatisfied with the outcome

 If the employee is dissatisfied with the outcome of the grievance at stage 1 they can appeal it to open a stage 2 grievance 

Stage 2:

  • A stage 2 grievance can be opened by writing to a senior manager, sending a copy of your appeal letter to the HR department.
  • Usually within 5 working days of receiving the employees appeal, an appeal officer will be appointed to them and arrange a meeting to discuss the matter.
  • The appeal officer will listen carefully to the employee and discuss the matters thoroughly.
  • The appeal office may investigate the complaint further and in doing to the employee is advised of this.
  •  After the appeal investigation, the employee is advised and will receive the outcome in writing. This usually occurs within 5 days of the appeal meeting, however if it is estimated to take longer than expected then the employee is informed.
  • At this stage the employee who raised grievance no longer has the right to appeal further.

It could be useful for both the employee and employer to seek legal help to support and advise in what to do in their individual circumstance as it minimizes the likelihood of a claim being made, such as personal injury due to the psychological impact bullying can have or constructive unfair dismissal. WE ARE HERE TO HELP! For all other enquiries or questions, contact our team today.

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