Sexual harassment in the workplace often gets disguised as a joke. Someone may tell an insulting joke about a certain gender, for instance, or insist that their sexual comments about a co-worker were “just a joke” and were not anything too serious.
The lines here get blurry in a lot of cases. Was the person joking? Was it really offensive? Did they mean to attack someone and then lie about it being a joke after the fact? Did they honestly think the joke was funny and not understand how anyone could be offended by it?
One thing that may impact whether or not a joke is funny is if the person who tells it is part of the group that it is aimed at. If they are, it may just seem funny. If they’re not, then it becomes offensive. An outsider poking fun at another group is often not taken the same way, experts note.
For instance, maybe a worker made a slightly insulting comment about women in the workplace. Is that viewed as sexual harassment by other women working there? If the worker who made the joke was a woman who was making fun of herself, it’s probably not. If the worker who made the joke was a man who was insulting his female coworkers, it probably is.
You can see why these types of cases often get complicated. There are a lot of different factors that you have to consider. It is important for all involved to understand the legal rights that they have and what steps to take if they allege harassment.