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When is a joke actually a form of verbal abuse or harassment?

On Behalf of | Jun 1, 2022 | Workplace Harassment

Jokes are like social currency in the workplace. Someone who is good at coming up with clever quips may get all the best clients or become involved with all the most exciting new projects. However, not all jokes are witty and beneficial. Some of them are derogatory and insulting.

Perhaps you have not been the one making jokes but rather have been on the receiving end of those jokes. Someone may have even made fun of you in front of co-workers. At what point does a joke stop being workplace humor and start being a form of sexual harassment or verbal abuse?

The line between humor and abuse is set by the observer

If the joke offends you personally or makes fun of people who share your physical characteristics or sexual orientation, then it may be a form of sexual harassment. As long as reasonable people would understand why you take offense, then you have every reason to expect your co-workers to stop.

These jokes may be contributing to a hostile work environment that you should not have to tolerate. That’s especially true if you have said that these jokes make you uncomfortable and they continue. Allowing workers to express themselves is one thing. Allowing them to do so in a way that insults others is a completely different matter. Employers who do not promote a positive and safe workplace and who turned a blind eye to abusive humor could find themselves involved in sexual harassment claims later.

Identifying when bad jokes become sexual harassment can help you hold the company accountable for contributing to a hostile work environment.