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I work in an automobile factory in the United States and the vast majority (approximately 90%) of the employees in my department there are male.

There is a coworker's birthday coming up next week in which he will be turning 50 years old. I saw a funny birthday card in a store yesterday that is for men turning 50 years old and I think he will really like it, however, it shows a young woman in a mini dress on the front of the card and the message inside of it is funny but is also a little bit sexist.

I want to buy it and then have everyone in our department sign it before it is given to the 50-year-old coworker.

I am concerned however that some of the women in our department may object to it and may report this birthday card to our manager and/or may report it to the Human Resources department. I am thinking of not having the women in our department sign it before I give it to my coworker, but then I think that they could be offended that I did not ask them to sign it.

Can someone be fired for giving a coworker a birthday card inside the workplace that is funny, but is also a bit sexist?

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    Even if you were safe from being fired, why is this ""funny card" important enough to risk creating a uncomfortable atmosphere among your co-workers?
    – johnLate
    Dec 10, 2023 at 17:33
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    Well, if you worked as a comedian I would say yeah, making audience a bit uncomfortable is a risk you can take (but then they can not come to your show again, or hire you again as company). But as this isn't your job, what do you think gives you a right to make that decision for others? They didn't sign up for your jokes, this isn't in their contracts, they didn't come to your show. And you can as easily deliver the card on your own, outside of workplace.
    – Aida Paul
    Dec 10, 2023 at 17:58
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    Like... I struggle to see what you expect to happen, you quite openly admit that it's sexist (a bit or a lot, makes some difference but not enough) so you should know that it is wrong thing to do as sexism in workplace is a no no. Just mail it.
    – Aida Paul
    Dec 10, 2023 at 18:04
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    I think talking about whether someone gets "offended" in these argument, is often unhelpful. To me it's about "are you happy potentially making a co-worker feel uncomfortable in their workplace?" Dec 10, 2023 at 19:31
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    Why are you buying a card from the group that you suspect some people will not want to sign? If you want to give him that card from you because you think it's funny and he will appreciate it, go for it. Get a less controversial card to be from the group. The point is to give the team a chance to say happy birthday and make him feel included, not to pick out a great birthday card. If some people don't want to sign an inappropriate card, you've manufactured a drama and dragged your coworker into it. Not a good bday present.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 11, 2023 at 19:51

4 Answers 4

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the United States

Then yes, you can almost certainly be fired for it. You likely can be in deep trouble anywhere for it, but first offence will be less likely to lead to a termination in countries with more worker rights.

The fact that you are doing all the planning around the issue should be your answer right there - if that's what a "joke" needs, it likely shouldn't happen.

Now I will also point out that thinking that it's only women who may be offended by a sexist joke is wrong, and this is something you should work on. Many men are offended by those too, but simply afraid to speak up due to peer pressure and the existing culture that allows such jokes to continue.

So do the sane thing and do not make sexist jokes, at least in the workplace. It's that simple. You cannot be sure who is and who isn't offended just because they didn't report you for it.

Being subjectively funny doesn't excuse sexism in the workplace.

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    @TheDemonLord good point, i've adjusted the last sentence to explain it better. Because it is indeed all about the setting, and i have no issue with more raunchy humor either, but at a comedy club - not in the workplace.
    – Aida Paul
    Dec 10, 2023 at 18:43
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    @TheDemonLord Well, I know enough men who do, this is based on experience. They also told me how they didn't feel like they cannot speak up about it. But that all depends on how sexist is the joke exactly, one thing is something your grandpa would joke at a dinner table, another something that gets you cancelled. This is all in context of workplace jokes of course, not comedy club setup.
    – Aida Paul
    Dec 10, 2023 at 18:54
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    I think especially if the plan is to go around the office and get people to sign it, then something offensive is a bad idea. It's one thing to give someone a card that your colleagues might disagree with, it's a very different thing to ask them to sign it.
    – Erik
    Dec 10, 2023 at 22:08
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    @user57467 glad you've got to that decision, but I am still petrified you still think sexism is something that only one gender is offended by.
    – Aida Paul
    Dec 12, 2023 at 9:05
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    It's sad that some are taking issue with the 3rd paragraph; I clicked the upvote button as soon as I got to it. Thinking men are not offended by sexism is quite like thinking white people are not offended by racism.
    – Theodore
    Dec 19, 2023 at 22:23
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The general rule of thumb is 'If you have to ask, the answer is probably no'...

That said, I certainly think the world has gone a little bit too precious with the notion of causing offense and that self-censoring what is otherwise a harmless birthday card is just another symptom of that problem.

This is not my endorsement of you going through with your plan nor is it a recommendation to seek a different course of action.

The point is - do you want to live in a world where making someone smile on their birthday with a bit of a raunchy joke is still okay? Regardless of which outcome you choose - you make it and damn the consequences.

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  • I agree with your post, yet I want to say that I don’t buy a somewhat sexist card for every birthday occasion, such as for my grandmother’s birthday or for someone in upper management’s birthday. I buy a birthday card based on the person I’m buying it for.
    – user57467
    Dec 10, 2023 at 19:24
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    I mean, you can still make the person smile and avoid possibly making someone uncomfortable by handing said card outside of workplace.
    – Aida Paul
    Dec 10, 2023 at 19:46
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    @user57467 but you're not buying the card for one person, you want multiple people to sign it. You can sidestep the whole issue and give them the card as an individual instead.
    – Kilisi
    Dec 10, 2023 at 19:51
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I'll give you a more generic answer on Dos and Dont's for the workplace.

  • Avoid joking as much as possible. Better to not joke.
  • Do not discuss politics, religion, international relations and economics.
  • Do not flirt with or date coworkers.
  • Do not use foul words even if others do. Not even cr@p or sh1t.

Regarding jokes - People, especially in the US, can get offended by anything these days. More importantly, they can request leadership to fire you even for ambiguous reasons. The leadership is likely to comply, especially if its a well known company.

Regarding romance - I know people who found love in the office & apparently are still in love years later. But, its not worth the legal & social risk.

IMO, work is just a place to make money & get skills. Its a bonus if you end up making great friends or even finding love there. But, its simply not worth the risk. I have made zero friends at work so far. All my friends are outside of work. YMMV though and you don't have to be as extreme as me.

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    Considering work is about the biggest time you spent with people in life. Often more time you spent with colleagues than with your spouse: how can you do that without having friends? Honestly I wonder about that, it means the biggest part of your life you are around people who are not friends, that's terrible to live and I personally rather not live than live such a life.
    – paul23
    Dec 20, 2023 at 23:38
  • @paul23 - yes, it can be terrible. I'd like to make friends at work too. But, that is my 2nd choice. Who knows maybe I will in the future.
    – MasterJoe
    Dec 21, 2023 at 4:05
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Most likely nothing will happen. But if the company needs to lay off someone and couldn’t decide whom then you just painted a huge bullseye on your back.

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  • "nothing will happen" feels very optimistic. OP may is indeed unlikely to get fired but this can do serious harm to their reputation and career outlook. Depends on the company and culture though.
    – Hilmar
    Dec 11, 2023 at 8:35
  • In today's employment climate, this is horrible advice. There are people who are looking to get a payout via lawsuits against their employer for trifling little things, such as this.
    – Xavier J
    Dec 12, 2023 at 17:27

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