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Are workplace jokes sexual harassment?

Sometimes, when you experience an uncomfortable situation in your workplace, it is not always easy to know if it qualifies as sexual harassment. This is particularly true when it comes to humor in the workplace, which may take many forms depending on your chosen profession, your coworkers and the culture of your workplace. Practically speaking, it is not always possible to win a sexual harassment claim based on an offensive humorous interaction, so you must carefully examine the elements of the experience.

Jokes that are sexual in nature may constitute grounds for a sexual harassment claim if they:

  • Are unwelcome
  • Affect the victim's work performance
  • Create a hostile work environment

A single instance of inappropriate joking likely will not justify a sexual harassment claim, unless it is exceptionally offensive. However, if jokes of a sexual nature are part of pattern of behavior by a certain individual or group of individuals, then a claim may be in order.

Realistically, each workplace addresses these issues differently, and each individual's threshold of acceptable behavior may be higher or lower, depending on many factors. If you experience an interaction that meets these standards, you should first inform the proper party within your workplace — usually a direct manager or human resources representative. In some cases, simply reporting the incident is enough to resolve the situation, but if it is particularly egregious, it may still warrant a sexual harassment claim.

Standing up to sexual harassment in the workplace is an important responsibility for everyone to consider, whether they are victims of the harassment or simply witness it. Carefully consider the steps you can take to protect your own rights and create a more just work environment for all.

Source: FindLaw, "What is Sexual Harassment?," accessed May 25, 2018

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