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When Boss' Sex Jokes Go Bad

When Boss' Sex Jokes Go Bad

Gen@Work | Divine Caroline

It’s no secret that young Millennials at the office see the world differently than their old-school Boomer bosses. This is the first installment of Gen@Work, a monthly column looking at career through the prism of generation. Millennial Traci Tsai works in international marketing at a social networking site; Generation Xer Magan Crane is an editor for a wire service; and Boomer Marilynn Mobley is a senior vice president at a P.R. firm.



Dear Gen@Work,

My boss, a man, is always making jokes with sexual innuendo. These comments make me uncomfortable, but nobody else seems to mind and I don’t want to rock the boat. What should I do?—Uncomfortable in Texas

Millennial Perspective: Traci Tsai

Dear Uncomfortable,

First, don’t try to approach your boss on this yourself. This is the type of situation in which you should take full advantage of your HR department. I am not an expert on HR law, but I would put your situation in the category of a potential hostile work environment. In the U.S., there are laws that protect you from situations in which the conduct of others is offensive against a “protected” category (e.g. gender, race, etc.) If your manager’s jokes are sexual in nature, they probably qualify as offensive to women. While the specifics may vary from state to state, the first thing you should do is have a conversation with someone in your HR department to report your concerns. They can approach your boss to discuss the concerns anonymously so you do not have to worry about creating tension or negative feelings from your boss.

Among women, it’s a common feeling not to want to “rock the boat,” but you have to take care of yourself. If you continue to ignore behavior that makes you uncomfortable, your concentration and work quality may suffer. Even if it doesn’t have tangible effects on your work, you are entitled to a work environment in which you feel safe and protected. You also never know how many other people may feel the same way as you; you may be acting when others did not have the courage or you may be voicing a complaint that has been aired before. Either way, you are taking the right first step for yourself and others by raising the issue with HR.

Generation X Perspective →


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