Many people across California spend most of their week in the workplace. The majority of jobs come with at least some sort of pressure, and the occasional joke can ease some tension and make the day go by a lot quicker.
Is there a line though? Can a joke ever become a form of harassment? The short answer is yes. Workers in California are protected at both a state and federal level from being forced to work in a hostile environment. A “joke” may constitute harassment if it displays the following characteristics.
Comments related to protected characteristics
While the funniest jokes often involve a little give and take, people should never be belittled based on who they are. The state of California makes it unlawful for individuals to be singled out based on certain protected characteristics. These include physical disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion and ethnicity.
Comments of a sexual nature could qualify as harassment. For instance, if an employee makes demeaning statements about women or asks intrusive questions about an individual’s sexual preferences, they may be crossing the line into unlawful territory. Comments are frequently made in person, but this does not have to be the case. Email messages and social media posts can be just as hurtful and inappropriate online behavior could also be actionable.
What can you do about on-the-job harassment?
Your Human Resources department should be well-equipped to deal with issues of harassment, and your employer should also be more than willing to take proactive measures. If they let you down in this area, then you might want to consider your legal options. As you spend so much of your time at work, you need to feel safe and comfortable in this environment.