It is very common for perpetrators of sexual harassment to claim that they were just joking. This may happen because they did not expect to be called out on their actions.
For example, perhaps a coworker makes lewd comments about the way that you look and describes what they would like to do if they were able to take you out on a date. Instead of just shaking your head and going back to work, you tell them that it is inappropriate and they should not say things like that in the future. Feeling embarrassed, they quickly fire back and say that they were “just joking” and that you need to lighten up.
This can still be harassment
The truth is that jokes of a lewd or explicit nature can certainly still be sexual harassment. It does not matter if the person claims they were joking when they were being serious. It does not even necessarily matter if they were honestly joking. Inappropriate jokes are still a form of harassment.
One of the biggest things to consider is if it happens multiple times. If it is just a one-time event and the person never makes a joke like that again, it is hard to prove that they were creating a hostile work environment. Perhaps they honestly didn’t know and changed their behavior.
But if it happens repeatedly, it is clear that they are not taking it seriously and they are certainly creating a hostile work environment. This is when it is important for employees who are being harassed to understand all of the legal options that they have to put an end to the behavior.