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Learn About Humor in the Workplace and the Law (Jokes At Work)

Jokes at the workplace can involve race, national origin, culture, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other personal subjects. What one may define as funny may be defined as offensive by another employee. The workplace is a home to individuals of all backgrounds and the workplace should be a safe place so that all employees may carry out their duties without the fear of harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) explains that raw pranks or impolite jokes can create a hostile environment for a person who is constantly being harassed or bullied in the workplace. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Age of Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), harassment is a form of employment discrimination.

The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains that harassment is offensive conduct towards a person because of their national origin, religion, sex, disability, age (40 years and older), and/or sexual orientation. Offensive humor or jokes at the workplace become unlawful when the offensive conduct continues for a prolonged period of time, or if the conduct produces an intimidating and hostile working environment. Isolated incidents and annoyances may not qualify as unlawful unless the situation is exceptionally severe.

Employers are required to maintain a safe and harassment-free working environment for all individuals in the workplace. Employers may be liable for harassment in a court of law if the harassment remained unattended and unresolved for a prolonged period of time. Employers are encouraged by the EEOC to adopt methods and policies to reduce the number of harassment cases including informing their employees in ways in which they can file an anonymous report; and, provide guidance on how to deal with certain offensive humor or offensive conduct. If your employer fails to address the situation at your workplace, you are entitled to file a complaint to the EEOC.

The California Sexual Harassment Attorney understands that jokes and offensive conducts can produce a working environment that is hostile to people of certain creeds and shades of life. The laws that guide the EEOC, including the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Age of Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), provide extensive literature on what is considered harassment and how to legally deal with harassment cases. Our attorneys can provide guidance on how to provide a strong EEOC claim if your employer fails to enforce the anti-discrimination policies outlined by the federal law.

The EEOC will provide different options for you and your employer so that the discrimination and harassment issue may be resolved before a lawsuit is filed. The EEOC will not provide either party with legal representation in a court of law which is why you are encouraged to speak to a California Sexual Harassment Attorney who is capable of representing your case and providing legal guidance throughout the whole process. To reach our offices, please contact 800-905-1856. If you are facing harassment and discrimination at the workplace, you may be entitled to remedies for employment discrimination.

Offensive Humor and Conduct at the Workplace

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains that offensive conduct can be identified as offensive jokes, intimidation, physical aggression, “put-downs”, mockery, and/or slurs. The harasser can be identified as a supervisor, co-worker, or a someone that is not part of the company. The EEOC explains that other people can experience harassment even when the harassment is not directed towards them. There a variety of jokes and offensive conducts that are not tolerated at the workplace if they cause trauma to a person or to a group of people. In a workplace some of the topics considered

“Off-limits” or sensitive topics include:

  • Religion, political practices or beliefs: making fun of people because of their religion (Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, etc.) is a form of harassment or poking fun at someone's political opinion (republican, democrat, etc.)
  • Social status: making fun of people because of their economic standing and/or occupation can be a form of harassment
  • Gender: making fun of a person because of their gender or of how they choose to identify, is a form of harassment.
  • Age: making fun of people over the age of 40 is considered a form of harassment.
  • Race or ethnicity: making fun of people because of their race or national origin is a form of harassment.

Your employer should have the responsibility to address any jokes that may be considered to have gone ‘too far’. The laws that guide what is and is not harassment in the workplace are not aimed at preventing people in the workplace from having fun, but rather they are meant to create a safe working environment for all employees. Joking in the workplace is a healthy habit that oftentimes produces friendships at the workplace. When making a joke always be aware of your audience and understand that certain people may be more sensitive than others towards a given topic.

Some jokes include a person's race, religion, gender, age, or other sensitive topics may not be considered severe enough to continue with a lawsuit or to file a complaint with the EEOC. If you are experiencing harassment in the workplace, you should contact your local EEOC office to determine whether or not you are experiencing harassment in the workplace. If you feel you are being harassed at the workplace or if you feel a joke has gone too far, you should bring it up to a supervisor. Your supervisor or employer has the responsibility to teach other employees about sensitivity in the workplace so to prevent any future occurrence. If your employer fails to address your situation, contact an EEOC counselor or a local attorney to determine the best course of action for your situation.

How to deal with harassment at the workplace:

Harassment and Discrimination Training: training your employees to practice empathy can reduce the number of harassment cases in your workplace. Your employees need to be able to identify what is tolerable and what is considered harassment. Managers and other higher administrative parties are encouraged to participate in the training. Harassment and discrimination at the workplace can come from anyone including employers, co-workers, and other staff members. As an employer, it is your task to create a welcoming environment for all people and to ensure that all people feel welcomed and capable of performing their duties without the fear of harassment or discrimination.

Managers and Work Policy: managers should create an employee handbook or a disciplinary policy so that there is a clear method of dealing with harassment or discrimination at the workplace. Establishing a clear disciplinary policy at the workplace will ensure that all individuals are aware of the repercussions should they engage in harassment or discrimination. In addition, managers are encouraged to be role models and set a good example for everyone in the workplace. Managers are encouraged to refrain from talking or gossiping about an employee with other employee or employees.

Handle Harassment Cases Immediately: employers are required to address any harassment or discrimination issue in the workplace to avoid a repeated offense. The manager should not deal with the situation ‘later’, the situation could worsen and could lead to an EEOC complaint. When dealing with these cases it is important to understand that everyone makes jokes that are offensive to someone. When dealing with a staff member that is joking or harassing, the best thing to do is to talk to the employee and explain that their actions are not okay in the workplace. If the employee continues with the offenses you might need to take extra actions, depending on the disciplinary policy you have established.

Non-employee harassment: employers need to address harassment even when it is not the employees creating the problem. Employers are tasked with keeping a safe working environment for all individuals at all times.

Filing and Formal Claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Employers that fail to address the harassment or discrimination at the workplace may encounter an EEOC lawsuit if the incident remains unattended. First and foremost, if you want to bring a claim to the EEOC office, you will need to contact an EEOC counselor. The EEOC Counselor will listen and document your incident and will usually provide two options for dealing with your case. The EEO Counselor will attempt to solve the harassment or discrimination issue before filing a formal complaint by providing two options: the option for EEOC counseling or an option for Alternative Dispute Resolution.

If you choose EEOC counseling or an alternative dispute resolution (ADR), you and your employer will meet in informal settings to discuss the harassment or discrimination at the workplace. These informal settings give your employer an opportunity to act in good faith and provide the remedies before entering a courtroom. You may find it easier to claim remedies when you have an EEO Counselor present who is able to act as a mediator. If your claim remains unresolved, you will then proceed with a “final interview” with the EEO Counselor. In the final interview, your EEO Counselor will advise you about your case and will provide instructions on how to file a formal complaint to the EEOC.

The formal complaint should be filled out no later than 15 days after receiving instruction in the final interview. The formal complaint needs to include:

  • The victim's contact information including telephone number, address, email.
  • The contact information of the accused, including the address and phone number
  • A depiction of the situation, including how you experienced harassment at the workplace
  • Be specific about the content of the joke or offensive comment. Include if it targeted your national origin, race, color, ethnicity, etc.
  • Sign the document or provide the signature of your lawyer (if the document is not signed it will not be reviewed by the EEO)

After your claim is received and reviewed, the EEOC will conduct an investigation that should take no longer than 180 days from the initiation of the investigation. After the investigation, your employer may produce remedies outside of a courtroom. However, you may choose to have an administrative judge determine the remedies for your case. Your remedies will highly depend on the severity of the situation, the number of employees at the workplace, and of the effect it had on the victim. Employers have the opportunity to act in good faith from the second they learn about the incident up until a courtroom hearing. Employers are encouraged to find an agreement with their employee so to avoid costly courtroom decisions.

To avoid an EEOC complaint, you should listen to your employees and make note of their complaints so that you are capable of fixing the problem before it develops further. As an employer, you may be required to pay between $50,000 to $300,000 for compensatory and punitive damages. It is crucial that employers adopt a method to address harassment at the workplace before it escalates into a serious EEOC offense. If you are a victim of harassment at the workplace you should address the situation with your employer and if he or she fails to address the situation in a timely manner, you should contact your EEO Counselor immediately. You are protected from employer retaliation under the mandates of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC).

The California Sexual Harassment Attorneys understand that jokes at the workplace can sometimes create an unwelcoming environment for certain individuals or for groups of people. Harassment is a very serious offense that can become costly if the case is brought into a courtroom. If you are facing harassment in the workplace, you are encouraged to contact your local EEO Counselor or local California Sexual Harassment Attorney so that you are provided with guidance on your case.  The California Sexual Harassment Attorneys can be reached at 800-905-1856. We are ready to listen to your case with the highest level of professionalism and provide a clear step by step program.

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