We Protect Workers

A “joke” can still be sexual harassment

Office humor can be helpful. It can bring employees together, and it can help to create a relaxed office atmosphere. Telling jokes is a good way for people to connect and get to know each other.

That said, jokes can sometimes be problematic. For example, say that someone makes a sexually explicit joke that is very insulting to you. You tell them that that was an inappropriate thing for them to say and that it was harmful. They tell you that it was “just a joke” and that you need to lighten up.

Why don’t people come forward?

In cases when someone comes forward with sexual harassment allegations, people sometimes ask why they didn’t make those claims sooner. Why did they wait?

One of the reasons is that victims are worried that people won’t believe them. Maybe they think that the harasser will say it was just a joke and that everyone will take their side. The victim ends up coming off as someone who is complaining about nothing, and this harms their career and their standing within the company. They may worry about losing their job. 

This does not mean that the victim is actually wrong, of course. Even if someone claims they were joking, making insulting or discriminatory comments is still a violation of your rights. Joking doesn’t excuse it. But the fact that people try to use this as an excuse so often shows how complicated these situations can be – and why victims worry about not being believed.

What options do you have?

If you have been experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, just know that you do have legal options. Carefully consider the steps you should take moving forward.