How often have you heard someone make an offensive comment and then — when called out on it — claim that it was just a joke? It’s one of the most common in-the-moment defenses people have.
For instance, maybe a co-worker made a suggestive comment about the way you were dressed. You told them it was offensive and they shouldn’t say things like that in the workplace — or at all. Then they fired back and said you were overreacting and that it was all just a joke. Maybe they even told you to lighten up and acted like all of this was your fault.
The truth is that jokes can very much be sexual harassment. This is especially true when they are said repeatedly and create a hostile culture or a hostile work environment.
Maybe that co-worker has always been kind to you in the past. When you told them the comment was offensive, rather than blaming you, they apologized and said they honestly didn’t know it was offensive.
If, however, they ignored your requests to stop and instead doubled down, making snide comments about your appearance every day, that could create a hostile workplace. It makes you feel uncomfortable. You dread heading into the office in the morning, knowing the treatment you will have to endure. Your work suffers. All of it relates right back to that co-worker and their unwanted comments.
There is no place for sexual harassment, even under the guise of a joke, in the modern workplace. If this happens to you, be sure you know your rights and exactly what steps you can take.