On a boring workday, it is usually nice to lighten the mood by sharing some laughs with your co-workers or superiors. But a joke that starts out funny can turn into an attack on a person’s character or work ethic very quickly. When jokes cross the line into harassment, it can make the workplace hostile.
Some banter is fine, but when you start feeling uncomfortable or unsafe at work, knowing the difference between harmless teasing and harassment may help you take the right action.
What the law says about teasing and harassment
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), making fun of a person’s age, gender, culture, race or any other protected feature could be seen as harassment. While mild annoyances, slights and isolated instances are not unlawful, harassment is illegal when it prevents an employee from doing their tasks or if the person is forced to tolerate it in order to keep their job.
Behaviors like mocking, insulting, intimidating and name-calling can be a form of bullying and create a hostile work environment. Sadly, no laws on bullying in the workplace exist in Florida. But, if you experience emotional distress from the bullying, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
Comments on someone’s appearance are not always criminal, but they can easily cross the line. For example, making fun of someone for their weight or skin imperfections may be considered disability discrimination. Meanwhile, the use of terms such as “boomer” or “grandpa” to describe an older co-worker is not only disrespectful but also a form of age discrimination.
Take a stand against bullying
Sometimes change in the workplace can start by shedding some light on the issue. If you are the target of bullying, you may consider bringing it up with your employer or HR. An anti-bullying policy may help create awareness and can provide a series of actions on how employees should handle these situations.
Reporting workplace harassment to the EEOC is an option if you do not feel comfortable discussing the issue with your employer or if the workplace has turned hostile. Keeping track of the times and circumstances in which you experience harassment can help the process.