Most of us will have heard reported the recent dismissals of the Sky Sports presenters, Andy Gray and Richard Keys, for berating a lineswoman during a recent football match. This case has highlighted the legal and ethical issues concerning so-called banter in the work place.

The presenters disagreed with the lineswoman’s decision and commented about the use of lineswomen owing to their alleged lack of knowledge about football. Their comments were made privately, but of course, were subsequently leaked to the nation.

It is easy to see how this type of conduct could fall foul of our anti-harassment provisions in the Equality Act 2010. The comments were clearly related to sex and it would not be difficult to show they were unwanted. While they probably did not have the purpose of violating the lineswoman’s dignity, or ‘creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’, they may have had this effect, particularly owing to the way they were communicated to her. As part of the Employment Tribunal’s assessment of the lineswoman’s perception, other circumstances and the reasonableness of the effect on her, one can see how a finding of discrimination could be reached.

Even comments that are not linked to sex can cross the line from banter to bullying. We recommend employers check that their anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies cover the difficulties surrounding banter at work and ensure the policies are properly brought to their employees’ attention.