Do you need work place banter training?

November 22, 2018
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It’s been reported that Leicester Police is offering all its employees “workplace banter training”. This is an unusual step, but is it something you should be doing too?

In September 2018, it was reported that Leicestershire Police had offered all its staff a training workshop entitled “Banter – balancing wit and wisdom”.  Its aim is to guide delegates “along the fine line between fun, stress reducing, morale raising, workplace communication and a harmful debilitating and persistent verbal barrage”.  Leicester Police took the decision following an incident in 2017.

WhatsApp group

Eight police officers were found to have posted offensive and discriminatory messages on a WhatsApp group chat. Four were subsequently sacked for gross misconduct and the other four were given a final written warning. There is certainly a fine line between what’s OK and unacceptable behaviour, so is banter training something you should be considering in your workplace?

The Equality Act 2010

It’s a common misconception that the Equality Act 2010 prohibits all forms of workplace banter, employees can still have a joke with their colleagues. However, the problem lies in the legal definition of harassment. Under the Act, an act of harassment will occur where A, engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating B’ s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B”.

Off limits

The key wording here is “Protected Characteristic”. There are nine protected characteristics under the Act;

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marriage and civil partner
  • Pregnancy and Maternity

In practical terms, if workplace banter is linked to any of the protected characteristics, for example it’s a joke about someone’s age, disability, religion, sex or sexual orientation, both you and your employees will be on dodgy ground.

Conversely, if a joke is generic in nature and it doesn’t refer to or involve a protected characteristic, it will be OK.

Is Training Necessary?

You’re under no legal obligation to offer any training, nor do you need to issue any policies. However, a robust dignity at work policy will show the tribunal that you take your duties under the Act seriously. In addition, by training staff, as opposed to simply issuing the policy, you’ll show that you’ve done all you can to protect them.


You don’t need to engage the services of an external training provider. An experienced Director, manager or senior employee can go through this policy during Induction Training, or a refresh training session.