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Can a joke be sexual harassment?

On Behalf of | Apr 6, 2023 | Workplace sexual discrimination comes in many forms

Offensive or inappropriate behavior should not be tolerated at work. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that it’s unlawful to harass an employee or applicant based on their sex. 

Sexual harassment at work can take different forms, including verbal conduct. Some people make inappropriate jokes in the office and act like they are harmless, yet they may create a hostile work environment. Here’s how:

They are sexualized jokes or full of innuendo 

Jokes are not harmful, and they can help employees feel comfortable around each other, increasing the success rates of teamwork. However, sexualized jokes are uncomfortable, whether directed at you or not. Examples include: 

  • Jokes denigrating a particular gender 
  • Disrespectful comments about someone’s sexual orientation 
  • Sexual comments about someone’s physique 
  • Speaking figuratively in a sexually suggestive manner

Sexualized jokes constitute sexual harassment. Thus, you should report it to your employer. If a senior commits the action, you should consider your options, as internal reporting solely may not give you the protection you need.

They contain obscene language

If a joke or remark contains sexual language, it may constitute sexual harassment. Someone in the office may use such language when talking to you or talk loudly with another person in your presence. If this happens, it will help to ask them to stop and inform your employer.

What if other people are not bothered?

Most sexualized jokes go unreported because one may feel like they are overreacting, especially when everyone there laughed and didn’t seem to be bothered. However, if you feel uncomfortable with an interaction, regardless of other people’s reactions, you should take action.

If you have experienced sexual harassment through jokes, it will help to learn more about your case to make the right moves.