An offer of training on work banter and related case law to police officers in Leicestershire made headlines last week – but Ogier lawyer Rachel Richardson says that the weight of tribunal cases show that the backlash was misguided.
The national media covered stories on banter training offered to Leicestershire police on their intranet site – with one unnamed officer describing the offer as "sounding like a wind-up".
The course was said to focus on risks and responsibilities and the line between funny and harmful communication.
Rachel, a counsel in Ogier's employment law team, said that tribunal case law relating to discrimination claims showed that workplace banter was regularly a source of complaints and claims – and that could mean unproductive staff, workforce disruption, financial penalties and reputational damage.
She said: "You can understand how this story has blown up, but the reality is that the police force were doing the right thing – we see time and again that banter in workplace crosses lines, leads to people feeling victimised or bullied, and results in tribunal claims and all of the negative things that can flow from that.
"One of the people quoted in a report that I read said that they would rather have crime investigation training than banter training – that sounds like a reasonable point to me, but I would suggest that both could be productive.
"Employers should measure the cost of training against the cost of a tribunal award against them in terms not just of a potential fine or compensation award, but also disruption and reputational damage. Even the fact that training has taken place will demonstrate to a tribunal that an employer has demonstrated awareness of their responsibilities and taken proactive steps – matters that are likely to be relevant when calculating the size of an award or financial penalty."