Woman being harassed by coworkers

How to Tell the Difference Between Joking and Harassment in the Workplace

We all want to feel comfortable in the workplace. Sometimes people feel that doing things like making jokes and bantering can unite them. But sometimes the joke can cross the line making others feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. But how can you differentiate between a joke and harassment in the workplace? Here’s what you should know.

What is Harassment in the Workplace?

Any offense or unwelcome behavior in the workplace that creates a hostile environment is considered harassment. This may include everything from sexual or degrading comments to physical contact. Under the law, one is prohibited from discriminating against an employee on the basis of race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), color, national origin, age (40 years and older), or disability. Therefore, if someone makes a joke related to any of these protected characteristics, it could constitute harassment.

Generally, small insults or minor isolated incidents aren’t considered harassment. For it to be considered harassment it usually means that 

  1. Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment; and
  2. The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. 

For instance, jokes of the following nature may be considered harassment:

  • Appearance-based jokes;
  • Sexual jokes;
  • Derogatory jokes related to an above-mentioned protected characteristic; and
  • Threats.

Indirect Harassment

It’s important to note that a joke can be considered harassment even if it was not directly said to the individual who was offended. If a joke is told to one person but another person hears the joke and is offended, it could be considered harassment. 

Additionally, employers and employees are prohibited from harassing employees in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or harassment lawsuit or for opposing employment practices that violate discrimination laws.

Steps to Take if You Are Experiencing Harassment in the Workplace

If you feel as though you are being harassed in your place of work, be sure to take the following steps:

  1. Document the behavior;
  2. Speak with the offender in a work setting;
  3. Speak with the offender’s supervisor; and
  4. File a complaint with your HR department.

You never have to accept harassment in the workplace. 

The Attorneys at Rochelle McCullough Help Those in Texas Who Have Been Harassed at Work

The lawyers at Rochelle McCullough help victims of workplace harassment and wrongful termination get their lives and their livelihood back on track. If you suspect that you were terminated from your employment based on your age, sex, race, religion, national origin, disability, or for seeking workers compensation benefits, we may be able to help. Additionally, if you were the victim of unwanted workplace harassment which forced you to leave your employment against your will, you may be entitled to compensation. There are certain laws that make filing a successful wrongful termination claim difficult to navigate, so it is imperative that you speak with a lawyer as quickly as possible to protect your rights.