Skip to Content

When a 'Joke' Becomes Sexual Harassment


“It’s just a joke” is the common refrain whenever someone makes an off-color attempt at workplace comedy. Don’t get us wrong – office humor is one of the best ways to break the monotony and help employees bond with one another.

The thing is, not all jokes that get told in the office, in emails, or through instant messages are funny, and some are downright offensive.

Such can be the case when a joke is of a sexual nature or demeans either sex. Under these circumstances, it may not be “just a joke” anymore. It may amount to sexual harassment, and employers are obligated to intercede. If the employer takes no meaningful action to stop this kind of behavior from occurring, then legal action can be taken against the employer.

Do Jokes Have to Be about a Specific Person?

No. Some people erroneously believe that sexual harassment requires a specific individual to be the target for harassment. To be clear, this is not true – jokes that are generally about either sex, or sexual activity in general – without involving a specific person – are sufficient to be considered sexual harassment.

The humor only needs to discriminate on the basis of sex and be so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. A hostile work environment is one where the discriminatory behavior makes it difficult for others – particularly those associated with the characteristic that’s discriminated against – to perform their essential work duties or feel safe in the workplace.

What Should I Do If I Hear Offensive Jokes?

If you believe the jokes being told at work are discriminating against sex, talk to a supervisor or another manager. Reporting the behavior to a superior obligates your employer to investigate the situation and take meaningful action to correct the problem.

If your employer fails to adequately address the discriminatory comedy, then they can be held liable for sexual harassment. It’s at this point that you should consult with an attorney to ascertain your legal options.

At K2 Employment Law Group, we can help you validate your claim. If we believe that you could have a case against your employer, we’ll let you know all of the ways in which we may be able to help you pursue your claim.

For more information about how we can help, please contact K2 Employment Law Group online or call (800) 590-7674 today.