Telling jokes may be a big part of your office culture. That's fine. However, many jokes are made at someone else's expense. That's when they can cross the line into harassment.
How do you know if things go too far? It can be hard to tell, as there is no strict definition that applies to all cases. That said, if the jokes tend to target a certain group, such as men, women or minorities, then there is a good chance they're crossing that line.
One key thing to look for is a "severe or pervasive" type of joking that changes the workplace atmosphere. While some people may laugh, these jokes are hurtful to certain employees. On top of that, the pervasive nature means that the jokes get told repeatedly, even after employees make it known that they do not appreciate that type of humor.
The goal is respect, after all. If workers do not respect their co-workers enough to refrain from inappropriate and offensive jokes, it's a problem.
These jokes can create a hostile environment where workers do not feel comfortable. They feel like they are always being attacked. They feel pushed to the margins, as if they are not as important as other members of the staff. Even if this is not necessarily intentional, it can be a form of harassment or discrimination.
It is important to take these types of workplace issues very seriously. All workers have basic rights. When these are violated, especially with consistency, they need to know what legal steps they can take.