Is jibing and teasing harassment? Not always…

An employee who worked in an office where ‘jibing and teasing’ were commonplace did not suffer harassment, victimisation or discrimination when he was dismissed from his job, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled.

The employee had claimed that he suffered insults from colleagues because of his weight and ethnicity and brought claims for a number of breaches of the Equality Act, covering harassment, victimisation, direct discrimination and disability discrimination. 

The tribunal heard that the “office culture was of jibing and teasing” stating that it was used as a way of relieving stress. On occasion, the manager would intervene if he felt that the teasing had gone too far.   But the employee said that a number of conversations were derogatory, and that he felt harassed. 

However the the ET found that he had been “an active participant in inappropriate comments” and was “seemingly comfortable with the office culture and environment”. 

The judge concluded that the reason for the employee being disciplined and eventually dismissed was his performance, and said the decision was not in any way influenced by direct discrimination or victimisation. 

In such claims, the context of office culture and behaviour is critical. This does not mean that is justifies loose language and office teasing but it is important to examine what is “normal” in the office in terms of culture and lighthearted teasing.   

It does not necessarily mean other harassment cases will fail just because an employee has occasionally participated in ‘banter’. There are other cases in which tribunals found conduct was unwanted, and harassment claims have succeeded, despite the complaining employee’s participation in similar conduct. It is important for employers to realise that one person’s banter is harassing and intimidating to another, and that it is important to set boundaries and ensure that all staff are aware of those boundaries.

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