Law Office of Jeffrey D. Fulton

Sexual jokes: Are they harassment?

This year, the Person of the Year in Time magazine was the Silence Breakers: a group of women who led the charge in exposing men who committed sexual harassment and assault. The power of the "Me Too" hashtag revealed that many women have experienced this type of abuse in their daily lives and in the workplace. More women are finally saying, "Enough is enough." 

As a woman in the workplace, you may be experiencing a situation where co-workers take a joke too far. Sometimes, male co-workers may make jokes of a sexual nature. They may seem merely thoughtless, but they still constitute harassment. You have the right to stand up for yourself and tell your co-workers this type of humor should not take place at work. If the behavior does not change, then you can take further action.

What types of jokes are harassment?

Ultimately, any jokes that make you feel uncomfortable should stop. This can include jokes that contain sexual innuendo, depict graphic sex acts or contain sexual language. The person telling the joke does not even have to direct it toward you. If the person speaks it loudly enough for everyone in the general vicinity to hear, then it is inappropriate.

How should you respond to sexual jokes?

It may seem easier to laugh off a joke in poor taste because the joke teller will simply claim that it was meant in good fun. However, if you do not find a certain joke funny, it is by no means a reflection on your sense of humor. 

The problem with sexual jokes is that they open the doors for other types of harassment. A co-worker may aim an inappropriate joke toward you, and if you play along to keep the peace, the co-worker views that as an opening to make additional advances. You do not have to stand for any type of sexual harassment. When you're ready, we're here. 

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