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When jokes cross the line into sexual harassment

It's true that jokes, even those that are sexual in nature, are simply going to be told from time to time in most workplaces. In fact, some companies have actively warned employees about this in their handbooks, telling the employees that they want to have an open, creative atmosphere where people are not afraid to make such jokes. These handbooks sometimes warn employees that hearing such jokes shouldn't be thought of as sexual harassment.

In some cases, this is true, though it's worth noting that simply putting that in the handbook does not mean it's impossible for sexual harassment to occur. However, off-color jokes are not always enough to be the basis for a lawsuit.

When they cross the line, though, is when these jokes change the culture in the workplace because they happen so often. If you are tired of hearing them and you tell your co-workers to stop telling them around you or to you—noting that you're offended—you may have a case if they keep telling the jokes, anyway. This disregard for your desires may even stem from a desire to make you uncomfortable.

Jokes can also cross the line when they are used deliberately to belittle you, to make you feel worse about yourself, or to make you feel threatened. Someone cannot tell sexual jokes at your expense—making fun of the way you look, for example—and then get away with it by claiming that "it was all a joke." If the goal is clearly to attack you, it has to be treated as such.

Those who have been subjected to harassment in Michigan need to know their rights.

Source: Slate, "The Difference Between Dirty Jokes and Sexual Harassment," Libby Copeland, accessed Dec. 30, 2015

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