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Racist jokes at work: Are they illegal?

People with a sense of humor are often admired, but sometimes things go too far. If you are dealing with racist jokes in the workplace, you should know what constitutes harassment and discrimination based on race. Learn about the laws that protect employees like you from racial harassment and when jokes cross the line into unwelcome and menacing conduct. 

When jokes become harassment

Workplace behavior must be severe, pervasive and unwelcome to be illegal. To be unwelcome, the conduct must be offensive and unsolicited, meaning you did not actively participate. Telling the person to stop and making a complaint are two strong ways to prove the jokes were unwelcome.

Unfortunately, not all crude remarks or inappropriate comments meet the legal requirements of severity and pervasiveness. The factors that courts use to determine whether jokes create a hostile work environment include:

  • The frequency of the jokes
  • Whether the jokes were humiliating or physically threatening
  • The context of the jokes
  • Whether the jokes interfered with your ability to work

If a joke or comment is severe enough, it may count as harassment even if it only occurs once. For example, a single incident of physical threats based on your race or the use of derogatory racial slurs can constitute harassment. Less serious conduct may still constitute harassment if it is frequent enough and it continues over a long period of time.

What steps you should take

Whether or not you are convinced the jokes you face are offensive or pervasive enough to be considered illegal harassment, you should still try to stop the behavior. Start by having a conversation with your coworkers explaining that you are hurt by their comments and that you want them to stop. If the behavior continues, make a complaint within your employer.

Once you file a complaint, the law requires your employer to evaluate the situation and resolve it. If the harassing humor still continues, you should file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You should not have to deal with racist remarks and demoralizing behavior when you are trying to do your job.

After making a complaint or filing a charge, consider filing a workplace harassment lawsuit against your employer. Even if you are not completely ready to file a lawsuit, you might want to contact a Florida employee rights attorney to discuss your options and make sure you do everything to ensure the harassment stops. You deserve the opportunity to work in a comfortable and welcome environment.

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