A co-worker begins telling jokes that you find offensive. Perhaps they poke fun at your gender or maybe they are just explicit jokes. Perhaps you are even the brunt of those jokes, and you feel personally attacked, even though they smile when they say it.
Saying that something is a joke is a very common defense against sexual harassment allegations. People will often say things and then, as soon as they get called out for saying something they shouldn’t have, they’ll try to backtrack by claiming they were just joking. Do not fall for this excuse. It could very well still be sexual harassment, even if they claim they never meant anything by it.
Any unwanted behavior
The EEOC defines sexual harassment as any unwanted behavior that occurs. They specifically use the following in their list of examples: “Unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions.”
The key to the whole thing is not the actual event that took place. The word “unwanted” is the most important. Any type of sexual conduct that occurs, if it is unwanted, could be seen as harassment. This includes physical touching, making jokes, asking for sexual favors and everything else.
People often consider jokes to be harmless or they assume that no one would really be offended. But if those jokes are actually harmful and they are unwanted, then they’re more than jokes. They certainly can cross the line into sexual harassment for employees.
If this has happened to you, be sure you understand all of your legal options. Employees certainly deserve better treatment in the United States and there are steps you can take to ensure that you get it.