A new survey has revealed that bad language, rude jokes, over familiar behaviour and sexual innuendo is common in the workplace

Employees are shunning political correctness by giggling at racist/sexist jokes and swearing or engaging in sexual banter, according to new research.

Meanwhile, bosses for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are also showing an alarming disregard for office behaviour which could end in time consuming and expensive legal action.

The study, by Hiscox, found that well over half of employees swear in the office (65%) and conjure up nicknames for their colleagues (63%); over a third like to laugh at sexual innuendo (42%); and a third (32%) regularly hear jokes of a racist/sexist nature.

The 25 - 34 year olds are the worst offenders with over three quarters (78%) swearing in the workplace and 71% thinking up nicknames for their colleagues. Half of this age group (50%) think using terms of endearment such as ‘pet’ or ‘love’ in the office is acceptable and 45% don’t bat an eyelid at sexual innuendo or banter.2

SME bosses, while condemning some actions such as swearing or the use of sexual innuendo, seem to accept other behaviours which could equally lead to legal action against them. Almost half of this group (41%) think that using a term of endearment such as ‘pet’ or ‘love’ for a colleague is perfectly acceptable; over three quarters (76%) don’t worry about nicknames in the workplace and over half (60%) don’t flinch at physical contact such as hugging or patting a colleague to encourage or congratulate them.3 Although these actions may seem harmless, they could lead to claims of bullying and sexual harassment in today’s workplace.

Gary Head, professions underwriting director at Hiscox, said: “These office antics are particularly alarming given the recent spate of high-profile legal discrimination cases, and a flurry of new employment legislation which has led to predictions of increased discrimination claims being brought against companies in the next two years.”

“It is essential that businesses review and revise their workplace practices and consider taking adequate insurance protection in the event that the worst happens.

Gary Head, professions underwriting director at Hiscox

“Things have changed since today’s SME bosses were serving their apprenticeships. The law now goes a lot further in protecting the individual and whilst big business has woken up to this fact, largely as a result of costly law suits, our study shows that this remains a dangerous ’blindspot’ for SMEs. Anything that makes anyone feel uncomfortable can land bosses in hot water nowadays.

“The potential cost from employee lawsuits is huge and could even result in bankruptcy for a small business, not to mention untold reputational damage. It is essential that businesses review and revise their workplace practices and consider taking adequate insurance protection in the event that the worst happens.”

"Most bosses will have considered what happens if their office burns down, but the fact is they are more likely to be sued by one of their employees."

The research also revealed that female SME bosses are, on the whole, better behaved than their male counterparts in the office. Although they seem to have less of a problem with pinning up sexy posters than their male colleagues do (14% women verses 10% of men), 86% of women do not tolerate sexual innuendo whilst just under one quarter of male SME bosses consider this acceptable (20%).

Regional data from the Hiscox survey also showed that Northerners (73%) and Scots (72%) are the most likely to swear at work and the Scots use sexual innuendo and banter the most (47%) compared to the rest of Great Britain, whilst people from the north of England are more affectionate and use terms of endearment for their colleagues (55%).