While at a workplace, there is no doubt that people will tell jokes and otherwise do things to keep the work environment light-hearted. Most of the time, these jokes are harmless.
However, as Los Angeles victims of sexual harassment could attest, sometimes these harmless jokes cross important boundaries and become harassing or discriminatory in nature. Particularly when these jokes are crude or involve sexual innuendo, it can make a person feel especially uncomfortable and embarrassed, even if she is not the direct target of the jokes.
An employer in California would be well advised to put an explicit workplace ban on all types of humor, includes lewd humor, that could possibly run afoul of federal or state anti-discrimination laws. By way of specific example, in addition to lewd jokes of a sexual nature, humor that is related to one's physical features or gender should be treated with great suspicion. Both employers and employees should also be aware that sexual harassment is never legally excusable on the grounds of being "free speech," particularly in a private workplace.
Although it is true that an employee has to show a pattern of this sort of behavior before raising a sexual harassment claim based on a hostile work environment, an employer should never be allowed to excuse this sort of behavior or take it lightly on the grounds that other employees were just joking around or having fun.
Those who are working within an environment where this sort of inappropriate and illegal behavior is tolerated on the basis of it being a joke should consider evaluating their legal options. After exhausting whatever internal procedures are available, the victim may consider filing a regulatory complaint as the first step in setting up a lawsuit against her employer.