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But a co worker recently approached me about how I made sexists jokes that made her feel uncomfortable. I promptly apologized and said I would never say them again and would be sure never to make her feel uncomfortable. The thing is the jokes where so mild that I couldn't remember them. So it was some subtle joking. I had no idea that she was made uncomfortable by them.

I approached other women and asked if they were ever made uncomfortable with the sexists jokes. They said no, so she was a special case. Regardless I don't say those jokes at all anymore. Does she have legal grounds for sexual harassment even though it was unknowingly on my part, and when I was made aware of it, I cease immediately.



This will depend on your jurisdiction and the specific nature and circumstances of the jokes and of the power relationship between you and her.

For example, this is the law in NSW:

Anti-discrimination law defines sexual harassment as:

  • unwanted sexual advances, or unwelcome requests for sexual favours; or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature; and

  • in the circumstances, a reasonable person would have expected you to be offended, humiliated or intimidated by this behaviour.​

Jokes fall under the banner of "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" and what is "reasonable" depends on the circumstances - what is reasonable for the Christmas Party might be unreasonable for the Board Room, what is reasonable between colleagues may be unreasonable between employer and employee.

With respect to a workplace, the employer is responsible for taking all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment:

In this context, all reasonable steps may include:

  • having a clearly defined policy that sexual harassment is not acceptable, and procedures for addressing harassment when it occurs

  • making sure all employees know about this policy, what constitutes sexual harassment and the procedures for addressing it

  • ensuring that the policy and procedures are followed.

Of course, if you are happy with a particular type of behaviour or you want to have a relationship with someone you work with, that is OK - as long as it doesn't interfere with your work or any standards of workplace behaviour that your employer has set. ​

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