Workplace humor is fine until it drifts into the realm of gags about employees' gender, race or religion. Even age-based jokes can trigger lawsuits. Although few employees will win age-discrimination lawsuits based on a joke or two, such juvenile behavior can take an otherwise marginal case and give it legal legs. Make that point clear to employees in policies and training.
Recent case: Murray Salkovitz topped the layoff selection list, based on his. However, at meetings discussing the layoff, he noted that the word "retire" appeared next to his name on the list. Then a supervisor sent Salkovitz, age 54, an e-mail that referred to him as old enough to be a "human antique."
He sued, but the 3rd Circuit dismissed his age-bias case, believing that performance, not age, was the issue. Still, the company could have avoided the suit by canning the joke. (Salkovitz v. Pioneer Electronics, No. 05-3709, 3rd Cir., 2006)
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- Warn managers: Zero tolerance for any kind of age-related harassment
- Punish offenders to set example that prevents harassment