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Why workplace ‘banter’ can cost employers dear

KEEP an eye on the culture and banter in your workplace… It could help you to avoid a tribunal and hefty fine.

In a recent tribunal case, a female solicitor who had been paid less than a male colleague for five years and endured a “campaign of victimisation” when she complained, was awarded £159,000.

And the case creates an important lesson for all business owners on the importance of a supportive and inclusive company culture, said HR specialist Rachel Collar.

Solicitor Helena Biggs made a claim against her former employer for sex discrimination, victimisation and unfair dismissal. When she found out she had been paid less than her male colleague for the last five years, she raised the issue with her manager.

The tribunal heard details of discrimination and victimisation spanning the solicitor’s tenure at the firm, ultimately resulting in her being dismissed from her role. The tribunal judge ruled that she had received unequal pay and suffered unlawful sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation and awarded her a total of £158,860.41.

“What is described as banter or jokes can still be offensive,” the judge said.

Current legislation states that employers have a duty to be proactive in preventing sexual harassment and must have policies in place to tackle it.

“It is not acceptable to make sexist or other discriminatory comments in a workplace environment,” Rachel, founder and managing director of Haus of HR in Towcester, said. “As this recent case shows, that can be a very costly mistake.

“It is important to ensure everyone in your business knows where that line is regarding what is and is not acceptable – and, if you’re not sure, err on the side of caution.”

Make sure there is a robust grievance procedure in place and that all employees know where it is and how to use it, she added

“We all want to work in an environment that feels safe and inclusive and making sure everyone knows what is and is not acceptable is a key part of this. Organising staff training and making sure everyone is familiar with key policies are important but so is making sure your policies are followed correctly in the event a grievance is raised.

“Failing to treat your staff fairly can end up costing you money as well as valuable employees.”

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