The Joke Is On You
From professional standup comedians to the class clowns, from the silly one-liner artists to the masters of sarcasm, everyone can appreciate humor. The problem is that workplace will be filled with people who have the differing tastes in comedy. There is a reason why some people like Family Guy, others The Office, others still Curb Your Enthusiasm (my favorite), and still others Two and a Half Men. I, for one, only find one of the aforementioned shows funny, yet all four are commercial successes. The point is something that you find humorous will be a total bomb to somebody else. You can chalk this up to the other person not having a “sense of humor,” but the fact is that you two are just on different comedy wavelengths.
Why is this pertinent information for you as an employer? Jokes that may please some of your employees may be highly offensive to others, and this could create tension between your employees. Worse still, a misplaced joke can lead to lawsuits for discrimination and sexual harassment. Even jokes directed at a certain subsection of your workforce or even those said in private may trickle out through later conversations and reach the very ears that you were trying to avoid.
Let your employees know what jokes are and are not appropriate in the workplace. Outlawing jokes altogether would lower morale and frustrate many employees. The key is delineating what kinds of jokes will not be tolerated. Jokes about national origin are not acceptable in the workplace, nor are jokes about race or ethnicity. Sexist jokes are also unacceptable. Jokes about disability, sexual orientation, and age are also to be avoided. Sex jokes are to be avoided because they can be interpreted as creating a hostile work environment for the purposes of sexual harassment claims.
As an employer, you especially need to be wary of the humor you use around employees. You have a tighter restriction upon the jokes that you make than your employees have upon theirs. Never joke about any employee’s employment status or even suggest as a joke that you are considering firing or demoting an employee based on the employee’s race, sex, age, national origin, ethnicity, or disability. The key is to remember that as an employer, your audience does not find you hilarious. Bosses are not funny people; this is what your audience has been taught by American society, and any humor with questionable subject matter coming from a boss is seen as hostile and inappropriate, not as good-natured fun. If you could not tell the joke to a classroom of third-graders without getting reprimanded by the school principal, do not say it in front of your employees.
In conclusion, leave the edgy humor for use outside of work. There is a reason Chris Rock and Daniel Tosh work in comedy clubs and not in your workplace–your workplace does not have any comedians on its payroll.
Daniel N. Ramirezis a named partner at Monty & Ramirez, LLP. He is board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Specialization and has been recognized as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers magazine.
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