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How jokes can lead to sexual harassment in the office

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2024 | Sexual Harassment

Joking in the office can result in a lighter mood among staff and employees. However, if jokes become sexual, they can cross into the realm of sexual harassment.

While off-hand jokes do not constitute sexual harassment, ongoing jokes that result in discomfort or a hostile work environment can.

Jokes resulting in unwanted attention

Sexual jokes can make some employees feel uncomfortable or objectified, mainly if other staff target them based on gender or sexual orientation. Jokes should not focus on a person’s appearance, body or personal life in a sexual manner. Unwanted attention can result in staff feeling anxious and unproductive.

Jokes enforcing toxic power dynamics

When a superior or someone in a position of authority makes sexual jokes, it can create a sense of fear or pressure for subordinates to laugh along or stay silent, even if they find the jokes offensive or inappropriate.

Jokes reinforcing harmful stereotypes

Jokes can perpetuate harmful stereotypes about gender and sexuality. Jokes should never rely on outdated or offensive stereotypes that marginalize employees. This can undermine company diversity and inclusion while also resulting in legal repercussions.

Teasing resulting in a hostile work environment

A hostile work environment is where employees feel unsafe to come to work. The sexual jokes or teasing at their expense may make them feel unwelcome in the office or as if their teams seek to degrade them.

Companies should have straightforward policies that outline appropriate behavior and communication. Likewise, training sessions and workshops can help employees understand the types of jokes or teasing that qualify as suitable for the office.

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