Office banter could cost UK businesses as much as £292bn in tribunal claims in 2013, claims a recent report by law firm Allen & Overy (A&O).
Although the majority of the 1,000 office workers interviewed claimed they could easily distinguish between “banter and bullying” (80%), follow-up questions suggested otherwise and displayed ignorance in matters that could lead to harassment claims.
For example, while 46 percent of respondents beleived it was not unlawful to display a calendar of semi-naked models, some people could feel that such a calendar could create an “intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive workplace environment” and lead to harassment claims with a potential £135bn cost to UK businesses.
Again, while a majority though it was not unlawful to swear (59%), if swearing was based on a legally protected characteristic, like gender, it could similarly lead to a discrimination claim which could cost UK businesses between £114bn and £292bn in 2013.
Said A&O litigation employment partner Karen Seward, “There’s a fine line between friendly, acceptable banter and unlawful harassment or discrimination…Time and time again, workers throw advice in this area into the political correctness box, not appreciating the litigation risks or the impact on individuals.”
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