The term “sexual harassment” has been widely overused and abused – so much so that it’s unclear what actually constitutes sexual harassment and what doesn’t.
Aside from talking to a sexual harassment lawyer, one way to understand sexual harassment is to start with the legal definition. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment like this:
“Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
- Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:
- The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.“
From this definition, we see that simply cracking jokes with a fellow co-worker is not necessarily a form of sexual harassment. But it could become so if those jokes are unwelcome, sexual in nature, impair an individual’s ability to do his or her job, or create a hostile or offensive work environment.
Sexual Harassment Jokes Are Not Funny
Ensuring a work environment that’s safe for workers and has zero tolerance for sexual harassment is no joke. Keep jokes neutral; if you think a joke might be offensive, avoid it. If you’re the recipient of unwelcome or offensive jokes, make your displeasure clear to the harasser. And if the harassment continues – or escalates – consider talking to a sexual harassment lawyer right away.