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When jokes at the office cross a line

On Behalf of | Jul 31, 2019 | Workplace Discrimination |

Anyone who wants to be the office comedian needs to recognize when good taste turns ugly. A University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student-instructor discovered this in 2017 when he tweeted a racially-insensitive picture. Many students at the university have stated that such images can feel traumatizing to victims.

Making jokes around the office can be a good way to build rapport. However, these jokes should be good, clean fun. No one at the office should be the butt of the joke, but unfortunately, many workers fail to see that. Their jokes cross the line into outright discrimination, and all people need to know where that line is.

Do the jokes become severe and pervasive?

Jokes become discrimination when they create a hostile work environment. Therefore, pointing out one bad joke someone made may not be enough to make a case. However, if people constantly ridicule a person based on a protected aspect, such as gender, race or sexual orientation, then it can quickly lead to discrimination. The jokes may begin to include offensive pictures and gestures, slurs, nicknames or obscene gestures. The humor may even become physical at a certain point.

Did you participate in the joking?

Some people may not mind if someone jokes about their gender or race. However, if you do have a problem with the joking, then you need to say something right away. In court later, the other side can claim you participated in the joking. You can always claim you went along with it for a while because you wanted to avoid making a scene. You may even be fine with a little light joking, but then it crosses a line. Many workplaces will make employees feel like they are not team players if they speak out against a coworker. You have a right to a safe, friendly work environment, and you should never let anyone make you feel otherwise.