You may not have read it but it’s unlikely you’ve been able to get through the summer without hearing something about Fifty Shades of Grey. The success of the novel has taken everyone by surprise and its graphic content has become a top water cooler conversation.

But if you are one of those talking about the book at work, be warned, some colleagues may not be as comfortable with it being a topic of conversation, and something said in jest - however unintentionally - could lead to an offended employee issuing a grievance or a claim for sexual discrimination against you.

Lorraine Adams, Head of the Employment Department with QualitySolicitors Talbots, explains,

“No one wants to stop people enjoying a bit of banter in the workplace, but as an employee it is advisable to think carefully about conversations you are having. Certain topics may be within your comfort zone but off limits for those around you. You may be surprised to learn that it’s the subjective viewpoint of the offended employee that counts legally.

“Even if the person you are talking to is comfortable with the conversation that’s not necessarily ok. If another colleague, who isn’t involved directly, overhears and takes offence, they are well within their rights to make a complaint to their manager. If their grievance is not dealt with satisfactorily, they could make a claim for constructive dismissal.

“It isn’t just employees who need to be careful. Employers should be aware of what is being discussed in the workplace. If one employee discriminates against or harasses another, the employer will be liable unless it has taken reasonable steps to prevent such conduct from taking place.

“By taking a few simple steps employers can ensure that all staff feel comfortable and secure at work. An up to date equality policy is key and employers may choose to remind staff to be careful of the conversations they have and that making unacceptable comments could result in disciplinary action.”

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Notes to Editors:

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