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Do jokes and comments count as sexual harassment?

Most Washington, D.C., residents understand that the definition of sexual harassment covers actions such as forced physical contact or requests for sexual favors in exchange for employment. Other actions may be harder to classify. If you are experiencing unwelcome jokes or discussions at work that are sexual in nature, you may be able to file a harassment complaint. However, it is sometimes more difficult to determine whether words and jokes qualify as sexual harassment.

RAINN is a national anti-sexual-violence organization that provides information and help to survivors. RAINN's website offers detailed information on sexual harassment in the workplace. According to the site, sexual harassment laws may not cover some types of sexual jokes and comments even if they cause negative emotional effects. However, certain types of speech do fall under sexual harassment laws. For example, you may be able to file a complaint against someone in your office who continuously makes disparaging remarks about your sexual orientation or about people of a specific gender.

Other types of verbal sexual harassment may include jokes about sexual acts or language that implies your job advancement requires you to provide sexual favors. If you have a coworker who describes explicit sexual fantasies at work, you may be able to file a complaint. Sending unwanted emails or text messages that are sexual in nature may also count as harassment.

If you experience verbal sexual harassment, there are several actions you may choose to take. One option is to confront the person who is harassing you, and another is to make a formal complaint to your employer. You may also file an official complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This basic information on sexual harassment is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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Bernabei & Kabat, PLLC
1400 16th Street, NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036

Phone: 202-745-1942
Fax: 202-745-2627
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