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When does a “joke” cross the line?

On Behalf of | Dec 18, 2023 | Employment Law For Workers |

There are many situations in which making jokes in the workplace can be beneficial. It can bring people together, it can lighten the mood, and it can create a sense of cohesion among the workforce. It’s a way for workers to get to know each other and communicate, and that can be good for the entire team.

However, some jokes are inappropriate for the workplace, and they could even constitute harassment. One example of this is when the jokes being told are of an explicit or sexual nature. Below are two examples of why these may cross the line and become sexual harassment.

Offensive comments 

First and foremost, jokes of this nature are often offensive or crude. Just because someone says that they were joking or because they think it is funny doesn’t mean that it’s funny to everyone involved. 

For example, if a small business has mostly male employees and only one female employee, and all of the male employees constantly make “jokes” about the female employee’s looks or her romantic relationships, it can create a hostile workplace. She feels marginalized and harassed, even if everyone else is laughing.

Repetitive actions

It’s also worth considering when these jokes are repetitive. If someone makes an inappropriate joke one time and another worker asks them to stop, it may not be harassment if that’s the end of the issue. But if that person continues making the same jokes intentionally, perhaps trying to get a reaction, then this repetitive nature escalates it to harassment.

Cases regarding sexual harassment in the workplace can certainly be complex. Those who are involved need to understand all their legal options.