You come into work one day, and a co-worker makes a blatant comment about your appearance and how they find it attractive. Or you suggest that you may put your name into the ring for a promotion, and a co-worker says that a woman will never get that position.
These are just two examples of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. If you speak up, one of the most common excuses you’ll find is that the person will say that it was just a joke. They may even take it a step farther and attempt to act like you’re the problem by asking you if you have a sense of humor or not. They’ll make it appear that you’re just taking things too seriously and that they never did anything wrong.
This is a problem on multiple levels
There are a lot of issues to break down here, starting with the fact that claiming something is a joke is not an excuse. Harassment and discrimination are still illegal. Jokes that belittle or insult employees are still a form of harassment. It doesn’t matter if the employee was honestly joking or if they’re just using it as an excuse after the fact. This behavior is not permitted.
The issue may even be bigger than yourself. Some experts have noted that using the “just joking” excuse “can mask a form of covert sexism that erodes women’s confidence and has an impact beyond the woman who is targeted to those who hear or observe the behavior.”
Say you work in an office with just two female employees. The joke is made at your expense by one of the male employees, but the other female employee overhears it. They are just as offended as you are, but they also hear the excuse that it was just a joke. This tears down their confidence, it makes them question how they’re being treated and it may make them feel like they just have to accept this type of behavior. In this way, a joke that wasn’t even directed at them could have a negative impact on their career and their experience in that industry.
What options do you have?
There are no excuses for sexual harassment and discrimination in 2022. Employers must know that this type of behavior is illegal and reprehensible. If this still happens to you, even if there are plenty of excuses being made, it’s time for you to understand your legal options.