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When Does Harmless Banter Become Harassment?

May 17, 2018

Banter between colleagues can be fun. It keeps the office feeling lively and helps build and solidify relationships between coworkers. Sometimes, banter involves joking about participants’ looks, personalities, speech patterns, and hobbies. It can become racy and sometimes, inappropriate.

 

Harassment is the act of subjecting an individual to repeated foul or abusive language or unwanted contact. It can be easy for banter to creep into the

harassment territory, but do not confuse all banter for harassment. In itself, banter between coworkers is harmless. One-off instances when it goes too far and one of the parties involved suffers hurt feelings are not acts of harassment. When banter is consistently toxic and causes the target’s mental or physical health to suffer to the point where his or her job is affected, it is harassment.

 

Examples of Harassment

 

Harassment in the workplace can include:

 

  • Unwanted touching. This can be sexual in nature or simply contact with the victim’s hands, face, or arms;

  • The use of racial, sexist, or homophobic slurs;        

  • Crude language;        

  • Exposing a victim to disturbing content, such as videos or images, during work hours; 

  • Intrusive questions about the victim’s personal life or history;      

  • Rude comments about the victim or others in the workplace; and              

  • Sexual harassment, which can include unwanted commentary on an individual’s personal style or looks, catcalling, and persistent pressure for sexual or romantic contact.   

 

Harassment is a Form of Workplace Discrimination

 

Every workplace has a different culture, and in some workplaces, off-color jokes and playful jabs between coworkers are part of the culture.

 

When an employee feels his or her job is being negatively impacted by this type of behavior, he or she has the right to take steps to make it stop. The first step is usually discussing the treatment with his or her supervisor and documenting this

interaction with Human Resources. If the harassment does not stop, or if the employee is told that he or she just needs to “get thicker skin” and continue to face the mistreatment, he or she has grounds to file a harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Sexual harassment and all harassment made based on the victim’s status in a protected class, such as his or her race, religion, or national origin, is workplace discrimination.

 

Never allow others to define your experience for you. If you ask your coworkers to stop treating you a specific way and they disregard your request, you are not being a “stick in the mud,” you are being harassed. You have the right to a harassment-free workplace.

 

Work with an Experienced La Crosse Employment Lawyer

 

When you face harassment or another type of discrimination at work, you have the right to file a discrimination claim to seek monetary compensation for the damages you suffered because of the discrimination. Contact our team of experienced employment lawyers at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. today to set up your legal consultation with us and learn more about your rights and options.

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