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Banter: Where Do You Draw The Line...?

Sunday night saw the screening of the 69th British Academy Film Awards, or as they are more commonly known, the BAFTAs. The dress code is strict with many women sporting floor length evening dresses and the men in black tie.

A well-known fashion designer Jenny Beavan did not adhere to the BAFTAs strict dress code. Jenny decided to turn up in a less-than-red-carpet-ready outfit that consisted of boots, black un-ironed jeans, a crumpled white t-shirt, leather jacket and an over-sized scarf. A suitable outfit if you were going to the shops (perhaps!) but not to one of the oldest and well known British film awards.

Stephen Fry was presenting in his usual witty, jokey manner, looking urbane and well-put-together. Half way through the ceremony Jenny won the award for best costume designer. It was a well-deserved award after designing some of the most amazing costumes for Mad Max: Fury Road.

After receiving her award and thanking family and friends she proceeded to walk off stage, BAFTA in hand. Stephen Fry back at his stand turned to the audience and said “Only one of the great cinematic costume designers would come to the awards dressed like a bag lady.” An interesting moment with the audience of well-known actors and actresses not knowing whether to laugh or cry at this distinctly un-PC moment.

What Stephen Fry said was situationally amusing, if perhaps a little unkind. It was a funny comment apparently made to a friend who “got it” and he just said what many people were thinking. Sadly his joke backfired and he has had a lot of stick because of it. The Twitter PC police were on the move again, many scolding Stephen for his comment.

Jenny Beavan didn’t seem the slightest bit offended by the comment and was quoted saying “Yes, we are still friends and I am absolutely not upset.”

At Russell HR Consulting we are all firm believers that you have to have a little laughter in the workplace. We work very hard and having a laugh and a joke can often lighten the mood on some of our most intense days, but you do have to be careful not to overstep the mark.

Banter in workplaces has always been commonplace. Familiarity breeds a sense of “let’s see how far we can tease them” humour (peculiarly British I always think) and teams often share extremely inappropriate jokes about one another. It’s always fine when everyone is getting along but when someone takes offence things can get escalate quite quickly. It might be human nature to pull each other’s legs but unfortunately if (when) it goes wrong and sensitivities are inflamed, it’s the employer who has to sort out the ensuing problems - often very expensively and in very time-consuming fashion.

Ensure that everyone in the workplace is treated with dignity and respect at work. There is no room for inappropriate comments whether or not the employees concerned take offence. As an employer you should be committed to providing a safe and respectful working environment for all of your employees. Set a good example too.

Always set out your framework for expected behaviour and language in a dignity at work policy and make sure employees know what’s in it, what’s expected of them and how to raise a concern if they are aware of behaviour which constitutes bullying or harassment. Having a process in place will ensure that all claims of bullying and harassment are looked into and handled properly.

If you do receive a complaint treat the complaint seriously; investigate each complaint; support the parties involved; and take action to resolve the matter, based on the outcome of the investigation.

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