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Case Studies

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The trouble with "banter"; when it is considered offensive

Published 22 May 2017

What is classed as banter and what is offensive in the workplace is often debatable as salesman Kevin found out.

He was working for a mobile phone retailer in a Derbyshire high street shop when he was involved in a foul-mouthed verbal exchange with his manager away from the shop floor.

Teasing, name calling and near the knuckle comments, directed at and from management, were part of everyday working life among the workforce.

When Kevin was verbally reprimanded by his manager for being five minutes late, and told he would have to make up the time, he suggested to his male manager that maybe he should spend the five minutes on his own in the back of the shop performing a sex act. Two female colleagues witnessed the exchange.

Given the nature of the working environment Kevin had no reason to believe he had done anything wrong. The day before a number of colleagues witnessed another employee telling the same manager to f*** off when asked to tidy up. The manager responded in similar fashion, and both laughed about it.

Kevin was called into the office two days later and suspended for using offensive language to management. He was later notified to attend a disciplinary hearing to be chaired by a regional manager.

Kevin contacted Castle Associates for help. Our representative reviewed all of the evidence and the company’s disciplinary policy, which allowed an employee to call witnesses to attend the disciplinary hearing. Three witnesses attended the hearing on behalf of Kevin.

Questioned by our representative the witnesses confirmed that the exchange between Kevin and the manager was pretty much the norm.

Our representative argued the comment by Kevin was in keeping with the established and recognised culture of banter that existed in the store.

The disciplinary chair made it known she was unhappy with the comment made by Kevin but eventually, and reluctantly, accepted it was how staff spoke to each other. She cleared Kevin of any wrongdoing, and vowed to address the issues highlighted during the case - which she considered to be unacceptable.

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