Workplace Banter or workplace Bullying – A fine line


Workplace Banter or workplace Bullying – A fine line

In today’s modern workplace, fostering a relaxed, positive, and inclusive environment is more important than ever and humour and wit is a great way many employees and employers do so. However, there can be a fine line between friendly workplace banter and bullying. This article sets out the differences between friendly banter and bullying and steps employers can take to prevent banter between colleagues from crossing that fine line.

What is workplace banter and what are some of the key characteristics?

Workplace banter is often described as the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks between colleagues and is usually intended to create an inclusive and enjoyable working environment.  When done appropriately, workplace banter can help build strong relationships among colleagues, increase morale, and contribute towards an overall positive work environment.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying on the other hand is characterised by repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee or a group of employees that can cause physical or mental harm. Workplace bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological or social. This may include victimising, humiliating, intimidating, or threatening a person.

When does banter cross the line into bullying?

Workplace banter crosses the line into bullying when it becomes repetitive, targeted, and harmful. It is important to note that what may start off as friendly teasing can quickly turn into bullying if it repeatedly ridicules, belittles, undermines, or excludes an individual and causes them discomfort or emotional and psychological distress. Additionally, if the person on the receiving end expresses discomfort and the behaviour persists, it clearly crosses the line into bullying.

In addition to the above, workplace banter has the potential to escalate into discrimination or harassment when it relates to one of the protected characteristics as set out under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993.  These characteristics include:

How to differentiate between Banter and Bullying

The following are some of the things to consider when trying to decide whether a remark or behaviour is banter or amounts to bullying:




Steps employers can take to prevent workplace banter from transitioning into bullying

All employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe work environment and must take all reasonable and practical steps to meet health and safety requirements. This means that employers need to take reasonable steps to prevent and address all forms of workplace bullying.

The following are some of the steps employers can take to prevent banter from becoming bullying within the workplace:




If you are an organisation and are facing challenges with interactions within the workplace or would like some further guidance around navigating the fine line between workplace banter and bullying, get in touch with the team at Black Door Law.

Disclaimer:  This information is intended as general legal information and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a specific issue and wish to discuss it, get in contact with the Black Door Law team.