Someone makes a discriminatory comment to you at work, and you call them out on it. This is not the first time it’s happened. You’re tired of it. You tell them it’s unacceptable and that you’re going to file a complaint. What do they tell you in response?
Instead of apologizing, they may claim they were just joking.
It’s a common defense, used by everyone from children to aging politicians. When people say something hurtful or even illegal – because workplace discrimination is illegal in the U.S. — the fallback defense is that it was just a joke. They try to make you feel like you are the one taking it too seriously.
But discrimination is no joke. For instance, if someone comments about not wanting to work with you because of your age, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or some other such factor, they could be creating a hostile workplace environment. If it’s a supervisor giving you fewer hours than other workers or docking your pay, and then making the “joke” about some protected part of your identity as the reason for it, they could be telling you exactly what the real reason is.
In this example, with repeated incidents, it’s even more clear that it’s not a joke. Sure, someone may say something in poor taste once, not realizing how offensive it is, and then apologize. But if this is a treatment that you face every day or treatment that really impacts your career, it’s clearly not a joke.
You don’t have to accept these excuses. Make sure you know what legal options you have.