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When Do Jokes Cross the Line and Become Racial Harassment?

Many workers like to build connections with other employees by engaging in conversation and banter. However, jokes and sarcastic remarks can often leave workers feeling uncomfortable – especially when the jokes are related to another person’s race or skin color. But when are jokes considered racial harassment?

California Laws Related to Racial Harassment

Supervisors or coworkers who engage in racial harassment or discrimination can face serious consequences. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act make it illegal for an employer to discriminate because of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status of any person.

When Do Jokes Cross the Line?

To cross the harassment line, workplace conduct must be unwelcome, and it must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to change the terms and conditions of the victim's employment. In other words, the jokes must be offensive and create an uncomfortable work environment that impacts your work performance.

If a supervisor or coworker makes jokes related to your race or skin color, and you express that you find their comments offensive and ask them to stop, but they fail to do so, you may have an employment law case.

The severe or pervasive requirement is intended to recognize that not every inappropriate comment or crude remark is bad enough to justify a lawsuit. The conduct must affect the victim's working environment to be illegal. The February 2020 passage of California 12923 states that even a single incident can justify the severe or pervasive requirement.

Filing a Claim

One of the first steps to take after experiencing harassment in the workplace is to file a claim with your human resources department. Once you report the discriminatory instances to the company, they will officially become liable for their employee’s actions. If the problem continues, you can file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

When you file a claim, the EEOC will look at the following to determine if you have a case:

  • the frequency of the conduct
  • the severity of the conduct
  • whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating
  • whether the conduct interfered unreasonably with the victim's work, and
  • the context in which the conduct occurred.

To file a claim, contact our Los Angeles employment law attorneys today at (213) 292-5444 to schedule a consultation!