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When is a joke discrimination?

On Behalf of | Jan 13, 2023 | Blog, Workplace Discrimination

Employers have made strides in equalizing the workplace and making things safer for all employees. Even with this, there are opportunities to ensure everyone feels comfortable on the job. Discrimination comes in many forms, including things that perpetrators dismiss as jokes.

Jokes and stories may fall into gray areas of what is appropriate at work. What is not offensive to one person may prove the exact opposite to another.

When is a joke or story inappropriate for work?

Supervisors and HR representatives may have to investigate harassment or discrimination allegations that revolve around jokes or stories told by co-workers. People may defend their actions by stating that they did not believe whatever they said was offensive. However, jokes primarily may target people based on stereotypes of protected classes, including:

  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race
  • Religion

When a joke targets a protected group, it rises to harassment or discrimination.

What is the point of the story or joke?

Some co-workers may use inappropriate stories to get a reaction from a particular person or group inside the office. For instance, a man interested in a woman may tell stories rife with sexual innuendo. If a worker feels uncomfortable with the conversation initiated by another, the topic of discussion should not continue.

A person may claim that the intention of a story is innocent. Even if the motivation seems benign, it does not excuse the harassment or discrimination of the offensive piece. Employers should clarify that anything that seems to target others in any way should stay in the confines of a space outside work.


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