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Bryant Whitten, LLP

There is no bad joke defense to sexual harassment

To put matters bluntly, the fact that a statement, email or gesture was just a bad joke or one that was misunderstood is simply no excuse for sexual harassment.

Although previous posts have explained that there is no bright line rule for when inappropriate jokes cross the line in to sexual harassment, there are some forms of humor that are always out of place in the office. Unless promptly corrected, they are also yellow flags that signal that the office management tolerates a culture of discrimination.

Basically, any jokes about sex or sexuality should not be allowed in an office environment, no matter how many or how few employees are actually offended by them. On a related point, comments or jokes about anyone's appearance or body are never appropriate for the office. This would include comments about one's weight, jokes that perpetuate stereotypes about women, or men for that matter, are not only problematic per se but can also be evidence of sexual harassment.

It should be noted that jokes of other types can be signs of other forms of discrimination. So, jokes about handicaps, one's age or even politically or religiously charged jokes should be cut off at the pass.

Bad jokes are never an excuse for sexual harassment, and employers should never tolerate them when they happen. From an employee's standpoint, a Fresno, California, worker may have legal remedies if they must tolerate a culture where sexual harassment thrives under the guise of people who say they are just joking.

 

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