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I made a joke that a girl has a crush for my coworker, he got mad - was it harassment?

I have been working for over a year in a big corporation in the financial industry. I am female.

I have a group of friends from work, not very close but sitting on coffee breaks and chit chat. I was with them at break over smoking and then a girl passed by and said hi to one of my coworkers.

One of my friends joked that she likes a guy in the group, because she always says hi to him (I guessed in a special manner), and we laughed. After, I was joined in on the joke. I acted a bit surprised and went "Oh really, maybe she tries any opportunities to see you and when she sees you she will be more happy and will behave a bit different. And you are a lucky guy because she is pretty". I went on for maybe a minute or more. You know these kind of jokes.

All of a sudden, the guy got really angry and told me to stop, in an aggressive way. I was shocked and said to him that I was just joking. He said never to joke to him again. I went "I am sorry I didn't mean anything bad, this is a flattering thing actually" (I was trying to explain it wasn't a put down). He replied to me that he has a girlfriend and he doesn't like these things. I said sorry and left.

Nobody in our group said anything and they remained silent.

I am worried that he will make a complaint, which is likely, and if so, will it be considered as sexual harassment. Also, I couldn't understand why he was so angry. I mean, we all smile when we realize somebody likes our friend and even make some jokes. If the girl heard my joke and was angry, I would understand better.

Also, 1.5 month after I began this job, there was a similar joke in a similar setting. One girl specifically smiled and said hi to our male friend and one of our friends commented "maybe she likes you: and joked that "if she saw, she'd behave with voices like 'ohhh, yesss!!', 'I saw him.', 'Yes Yes Yes he is there'" We just laughed and went about our business.

So, I never thought that it would be a problem. Do you think is this a case of sexual harassment?? I didn't say anything sexual but I am really curious and upset and panicked.

Also, I know a one-off incident is enough in the UK according to my research.

So, I am wondering this or similar situations might be a problem or not rather than directly hitting on the person cases.

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    Teasing a coworker at work about having a crush on another coworker is not professional behavior, even if you are friends outside of work. That's schoolyard stuff.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 13:18
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    What we anonymous strangers on the Internet think is not relevant. What matters is what your coworker thinks and what your HR department thinks about this incident.
    – Philipp
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 13:20
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    "I went on for maybe a minute or more." You're telling me you dragged this 'joke' on for a minute and then were surprised when they got angry? Is it possible you missed some clear social cues that they were uncomfortable? Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 14:26
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    "And you are a lucky guy because she is pretty" - Stuff like this will get you in trouble one day in a professional work environment. I would not consider the work environment you describe as professional. I won't explain the problem with assuming a guy would be attracted to a woman, or how the women must be "pretty", for somebody to be attracted to them.
    – Donald
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 17:42

5 Answers 5

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Yep. Even if you didn't say something explicitly sexual, good luck decoupling the sexual aspect from what you were going on about for a full minute. It also doesn't really matter that you weren't doing it for sexual gain yourself. For example, sexually degrading commentary (eg: disparaging comments about... size) can also pass as sexual harrassment.

You say he snapped suddenly, but if you kept on for a full minute like you say, this points more to bad room-reading on your part (after all, you can't really tell us on things you didn't pick up on).

Reverse the genders, and I doubt you wouldn't say the circumstances point towards sexual harrassment. From here, what you write looks like a pretty bad textbook case.

Don't approach the topic again, and hope his snapping back was him firing a warning shot.

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+100

You embarrassed the guy in front of your co-workers. That's all that happened here.

He explained why he was embarrassed, you apologised (sort of), so that's an end to this situation.

To be safe, just don't engage in or encourage this kind of sexualised joking in the office - it's kind of old-fashioned these days.

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    "you apologised (sort of)" Her apology was basically invalidated the moment she tried to pass it off as a compliment. That was a non-apology. Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 13:26
  • No, not really I was trying in an attempt of I didn't mean anything bad as a put down. I mean a flattering way for him rather than humiliating him. Of course after that I apologised.
    – Anonys
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:38
  • @snow Thank you for the answer. To be honest, I didn't get why he got embarrassed much cuz he wasn't the one like somebody. The topic was about platonic so it didn't bring my mind some sexual thing; I see it as more romantic or cute thing. Idk:((
    – Anonys
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 16:40
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    @Anonys, Just apologize again. Promise not to do it again. And do not explain your reasoning to him. If you try to explain, that will lessen the impact of the apology. And do this privately in person, not via email. An emailed apology could come back on you. Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 5:10
  • @StephanBranczyk Yo are right sir. I tried to explain cuz didn't want him to think I mean some malicious thing or intend to humiliate him but I guess even hearing this make people more sensitive or vulnerable.
    – Anonys
    Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 14:13
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This absolutely could count as a harassment - and yes it could be considered sexual harassment.

I was just joking

That you intended it as a "joke" is irrelevent.

I am sorry I didn't mean anything bad, this is a flattering thing actually

As the old adage goes "When you're in a hole, you should stop digging.", your comments made him uncomfortable and trying to convince him that they were actually something he should be apprecitative of isn't going to help, it's no different than telling someone who is being leered at that they should find it "flattering".

I am worried that he will make a complaint, which is likely, and if so, will it be considered as sexual harassment.

If he does (and he's entitled to do so) the best thing you could do would be to stress that you understand that such comments are not acceptable and that it won't be happening again.

Also, I couldn't understand why he was so angry. I mean, we all smile when we realize somebody likes our friend and even make some jokes.

This is a workplace - not the school playground.

If the girl heard my joke and was angry, I would understand better.

I encourage some self-reflection as to why this is.

Also, 1.5 month after I began this work, there was a similar joke in a similar setting. One girl specifically smiled and said hi to our male friend and one of our friends commented "maybe she likes you: and joked that "if she saw, she'd behave with voices like 'ohhh, yesss!!', 'I saw him.', 'Yes Yes Yes he is there'" We just laughed and went about our business.

Sounds like there's something of a pattern here - I appreciate that you weren't the one saying it on the previous occasion but it sounds as if it was the same recipient. Just because he didn't voice his concerns then doesn't mean he was okay with it, and the repeated nature of the situation provides more insight into why he may have reacted so strongly this time around.

I realize this answer may come off a bit..harsh, I do understand that you weren't trying to cause upset, but I think you need to treat this as a wake-up call, there's nothing wrong with having a jovial relationship with co-workers, far from it. But you need to remember that first and foremost it is a workplace and certain subjects need to be treated with extreme caution and anything to do with sex/relationships is right near the top of that list. If you aren't 1000% sure that everyone (either present, even mentioned) is on the same page with "jokes" around that it's better not to say them at all.

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  • I kind of echo the sentiments here. I honestly think if you have friends at work, actual friends, it's fine to joke with them about anything, with the knowledge that they won't throw you under the bus to HR if they actually do get upset. Because friends have enough faith in each other to know that no offence is actually meant, and if it is made, they can trust there is remorse. That's like the safety net. If you're not that close of friends you need to steer well clear. Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 14:36
  • @GregoryCurrie yes I am friends with them and ı have some bullies even attacking me with jokes but never thought to go HR immediately unless it is a big case. I talk to them or showing my displeasure first.
    – Anonys
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:35
  • If you make a joke, everyone laughs. And in reverse, if someone gets really angry about it, then it wasn't a joke.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:35
  • @Anonys Yes, but just cause you act a certain way, doesn't mean that everyone else will. It looks like you were surprised about how your colleague reacted, so I guess you don't know them as well as you thought you did. It happens. Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:43
  • @gnasher729 yes, of course. If I realized that I would stop. I am not a person enjoys making people feel bad.
    – Anonys
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 15:48
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In a word, yes.

You were in a group that was having fun at the expense of a coworker, and then you escalated it. You may have thought of it as just joking, but this is how rumors start. Not only does this create a hostile work environment for the coworker that got upset, but also for the woman you were referring to. Once the rumor mill gets going, any interaction between these two would be interpreted as having unprofessional undertones.

At that point, they'd BOTH have a claim for harassment. Now, the guy SAYS he has a girlfriend, but what if he's in the closet and it's a boyfriend, or something else is going on? Then it might be harassment on gender preference as well.

I'm going to say this again for emphasis, the coworker isn't the only one who would have cause to pursue you, you're making a joke at HER expense as well. It can be a death sentence to a woman's career to be known to be chasing after a coworker, or worse, as "the office slut" (sorry no subtle way of saying that).

Or, word could get back to her that he thought that she was crushing on him and then she might file against him. In other words, you might have kicked over a major beehive.

These kind of "jokes" are not funny, they are mean spirited in nature and can do damage to the careers of all of those involved.

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Would this be considered harassment in a workplace - UK?

Here is what the UK gov website says

"Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010"

I couldn't understand why he was so angry.

There are many things I could say about this, there are many reasons why and it shocks me that you can't think of any. I'll leave it at this, it's inappropriate and rude to make assumptions and talk about other peoples personal lives unless they started the conversation.

Aside from them being personally offended, you may also be undermining them, damaging their pride, their reputation, and violating their dignity. That can affect their performance and ability to do their job, along with a potential to cause mental health issues.

So yes, from what you have described, your actions could well be seen as bullying and harassment, especially if this type of conversation has happened before.

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  • @Anonys - You have a tougher shell, that doesn't mean, what you said wasn't unprofessional. Honestly, I would find what you said, pretty offensive if it was directed towards me.
    – Donald
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 17:44
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    In today’s society you shouldn’t assume a man will be attracted to a women (and vice versa) and saying anything with regards to somebody’s look is a huge red flag in the workplace regardless of what sex that individual identifies as. Honestly, the teasing of a coworker, is what I find so offensive.
    – Donald
    Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 21:35
  • @Anonys - My comment is clear, if you said what you said towards me in a professional work environment, I would be offended. I also would report the comment as completely and totally inappropriate to the appropriate individuals. What you said was offensive, there is no way to sugarcoat that fact, there is no defense to what you said. I strongly suggest not repeating that behavior
    – Donald
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 2:07

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