Inappropriate jokes could be illegal


Rhode Island residents probably recognize that they work with different people who all have slightly different senses of humor. What might be really funny to one person may, for another person, be at best a little tasteless and, at worst, outright offensive.

While in many cases, having to endure an offensive joke every now and then is part of life, such is not the case when those jokes touch on one's gender or upon a related topic. Whether these jokes are simply bad judgment or malicious, sexual innuendo, remarks about women and other jokes could violate anti-discrimination laws and have no place in a professional environment.

While not every isolated incident of a rude sexual comment is going to lead to a lawsuit, it is important to remember there is no precise line as to when occasional bad behavior crosses over the line in to sexual harassment. As such, any humor that targets gender or sex, including most innuendo, is potentially subject to legal action depending on the circumstances.

Moreover, a joke need not be directed at one particular person in order to constitute harassment. Any joke that could be perceived as degrading or offensive to women, or men for that matter, can become either the subject of or evidence used in an already valid sexual harassment claim.

What this means for Rhode Island employees is that they do not have to tolerate a work environment where rude and off-color jokes are the norm. They can instead demand that such behavior stop and their employers do what they reasonably can to prevent such behavior from within the ranks. If an employer does not take appropriate action, the victim can then evaluate her legal alternatives.

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