25 November 2021

Challenging the banter culture in the workplace

Banter is supposedly “teasing or joking talk that is amusing and friendly”. But it can often be used to mask hate speech and bullying.

When is “banter” not “just banter”?

Hate speech is often used on social media and can go unreported. But racial and religious violence, harassment and abuse does not only take place online or on the street but often finds a way into the workplace.

Azeem Rafiq, former England and Yorkshire County Cricket Club player, and countless others can testify to the damaging effect of so-called “banter” in the workplace. Rafiq was the victim of repeated taunts in the dressing room and constant racist banter that left him suicidal, needing medication for depression and ended his glittering career. We should note that Rafiq was also the perpetrator of racists comments during the time that he was himself suffering such abuse. He has since apologised for his ignorance.

“Banter” seems to have become a term widely used in public and on social media to denote a playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks, but it is also now a firm staple of many workplace interactions and can even be relied on as a defence at employment tribunal.

As employers and departments seek to tackle workplace harassment and sexism, and wider issues of diversity, there is an increasing urgency to deal with the issue of banter. A recent letter to 400 employers from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, highlighting new guidance on tackling harassment, specifically mentioned the dangers of banter.

There is no place for racism in our society and PCS stands with all those affected by any kind of abuse. Members are urged to join PCS in not only condemning this behaviour but actively challenging racism wherever it appears.

If you experience or witness racism in the workplace you should report it immediately and seek support from your local PCS rep. We also have a racial incident helpline which is a confidential and safe place to make a report or raise concerns. Phone 0207 801 2678 (answered during office hours or leave a message at evenings/weekends).