A sexual harassment lawsuit is serious for any individual or corporation. That is why so many companies and nonprofit organizations regularly hold sexual harassment awareness trainings for employees. Still, some workers end up misunderstanding what could be construed as sexual harassment, such as a joke.
In fact, many sexual harassment defendants try to defend themselves by claiming that their comments were jokes. However, this rarely holds up in court and can backfire. Employees must recognize that what they say while on the job matters. Otherwise, they could contribute to a hostile work environment fraught with stressful situations and lowered productivity.
A main reason why many people tell jokes to colleagues is that they feel comfortable. However, there is a fine line between what is and what is not appropriate. Companies are expected to create an atmosphere where everyone feels at ease. Jokesters put themselves in the position to be accused of insensitivity or harassment.
Another reason why workers tell many jokes is that they have a desire to be liked by coworkers, or they want to gain the upper hand. Many sexual harassment cases involve men who have been charged with using jokes as a way to degrade their female coworkers. No matter why jokes are told at work, they can end up leading to a sexual harassment claim if the jokes are persistent and especially egregious.
How can Jokes Impact Emotions?
Even a joke that is meant to bring people together can make some employees experience negative emotional responses. For instance, a joke that seems lighthearted could end up causing any of the following reactions:
- Anger: Jokes that are made at the expense of any population can be offensive to certain groups.
- Sadness: A joke could cause a listener to remember something terrible that happened, such as a time of harassment or abuse.
- Fear: This is a common response from listeners who feel that a joke may mask a threat.
- Disgust: The wrong type of joke can make a colleague turn against another worker or even a boss.
- Distrust: Finding out that a coworker thinks something is humorous that seems horrifying can make other colleagues distrust the joke teller. Employees may also start to distrust colleagues who laugh at or contribute to inappropriate jokes.
- Shock: It can be hard to listen to someone telling a joke that seems highly inappropriate.
When Joking Includes a Physical Element
Jokes are not just verbal, some jokes include physical touching to make a point. These should always be avoided in the workplace. Any type of physical contact with coworkers can lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit. Therefore, employees should refrain especially from engaging in banter that may include physical actions.
How can Employees Stop Inappropriate Sexual Joking?
Whether or not they have gone through sexual harassment training at work, employees have a responsibility to monitor what they say. Some ways to avoid an accusation of sexual harassment related to joking include:
- Make it clear that the majority of jokes are off limits and not acceptable. When a colleague begins to tell a joke, an employee can disengage immediately by walking away or telling the jokester to stop.
- Intervene after an off-color joke. Supervisors or team members who hear colleagues saying inappropriate jokes should take it upon themselves to say something. If they feel they cannot do so safely, they can talk to a Human Resources (HR) manager about the problem.
- Step in if the joke gets physical. Managers should be on the lookout for any joking that gets physical, even if everyone seems to be enjoying the joke. Any physical contact between workers could end up leading to sexual harassment accusations.
- Never send jokes to other people. Do not forward any jokes by text or email.
- Recommend that HR set up a sexual harassment training. Employees should feel free to suggest that the employer hosts a sexual harassment workshop, especially if inappropriate or vulgar joking seems to be pervasive.
What Should I Do if I am Experiencing Workplace Sexual Harassment?
Many people who feel that they have been sexually harassed on the job hesitate to say anything to the harasser. This can be especially true if they feel sexually harassed after hearing a joke. However, it is every worker’s right to feel safe and secure. Employees are entitled to a harassment-free work environment.
Some best practices for workers who feel they have experienced joke-related sexual harassment involve:
- Telling a supervisor or HR team member about the incident. This can start an official corporate report.
- Writing down all the specifics about what happened, including the sexual joke. It is easy to forget details later, and the details could be extremely important.
- Watching for signs of retaliation from the offender. If the offending worker receives a reprimand for telling sexually charged jokes, they could retaliate. This is unethical and illegal behavior and should be noted.
- Getting witness statements to the offensive event. If other coworkers are present at the time of the joke, they may be willing to give statements describing what happened. Their statements can corroborate the account later.
- Talking to a sexual harassment lawyer. There is nothing wrong with picking up the phone and speaking with a lawyer. Getting professional advice about potential legal remedies can be important.
- Making an appointment to speak with a therapist. Often, sexual harassment leaves a person stressed out and unable to deal with daily activities. Any employee who feels threatened or overwhelmed should seek out expert mental health assistance. Medical appointments due to emotional stress related to alleged workplace sexual harassment should be documented.
What Damages are Possible in a Sexual Harassment Case?
Throughout the United States, many workers have gone through the court system after experiencing sexual harassment. Other employees have settled privately between workers and employers.
It is difficult to determine what types of damages may be offered for any specific case. Each sexual harassment incident is unique. Some potential damages include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Back pay
- Front pay
- Emotional distress
- Punitive damages
What if My Sexual Harassment Complaint is Dismissed?
One of the most frustrating, challenging experiences for any victim of sexual harassment is having a complaint dismissed. At that point, many employees give up, but they do not have to do that. Instead, a victim can speak to a sexual harassment lawyer. A lawyer may be able to help move the case along, even if an employer denies any wrongdoing.
Employees deserve to work in an environment that is free from hostility and judgment. One way to ensure that a business shows fairness and respect for everyone is by stopping inappropriate sexual jokes.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Help Those Victimized by Egregious Sexual Joking
It may be difficult to prove that sexual joking caused a hostile work environment, but a strong lawyer can fight on your behalf. Speak to a Cherry Hill employment lawyer at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. for help building a case against those responsible for permitting sexual harassment. Complete our online form or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.