Does banter cross the line or does political correctness kill the fun?


My supervisor and I have worked together for years and have a similar sense of humor. We play practical jokes on each other and banter back and forth. It makes the day go faster, and it’s all the funnier when others aren’t sure whether or not to take seriously our put-downs of each other.

A couple of individuals have seized on the political correctness movement and have called our banter inappropriate in the workplace. One employee who complained tells sexist, raunchy, male-bashing jokes herself but apparently that’s okay if she’s the one being “funny.”

Human Resources has come down on the two of us. I don’t get it, but my supervisor says we need to cut it out. He tells me we don’t dare protest the language these two other employees use, because that would be seen as retaliation. He says if I protest, it will backfire on him.

I think this is a crock, but for his sake I’ll watch myself when I see others listening. Why do some have free rein, but our harmless fun is restricted? Have we gotten to where it’s politically incorrect to have a sense of humor? And why is it OK for others if not for us?


You can do anything you want on your own time. At work, you need to respect others’ air space. Are your jokes truly funny, or mean? The fact that others don’t know how to take your banter indicates you need new punchlines.

Your supervisor is correct that he cannot take any actions that appears to retaliate against someone who has protested problematic language in the workplace. You, however, have the right to visit HR and report the raunchy jokes and male-bashing.

Next, you appear to think that by watching yourself when you realize others are listening, you’ll have solved the problem. The fact that you don’t buy-in to the changes you need to make means you’re likely to slip up, leading to fresh problems.

You and your supervisor also need to consider whether your friendship with your supervisor has created the perception or reality of favoritism. If so, you and your supervisor need to step back and consider whether your “insider” teasing makes others feel like outsiders. Few employees appreciate supervisors who show favoritism. Many coworkers steer clear of the “favorite.” If so, you both isolate yourself.

You might enjoy a book I regularly suggest to those I coach, the Arbinger Institute’s Outward Mindset. The book leads with a story about a SWAT team take-down that starts off with men wearing body armor executing a “no-knock” warrant on suspected drug dealers. The scene begins with women screaming and babies crying. Then, one SWAT team member fills bottles with Similac and gives them to the babies who stop crying. In turn, the screaming ends.

Here’s the bottom line—can you move past seeing yourself as a victim of political correctness and look at this situation from the standpoint of those who watch a supervisor and one employee playing jokes on each other all day long? Can you find new ways to make the day go faster by developing more enjoyable relationships with all your coworkers?

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, and “Solutions”, (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Send your questions to her at, visit her @ or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

2 thoughts on “Does banter cross the line or does political correctness kill the fun?

  1. As this case shows, our times continue to be “complicated,” “nuanced,” and full of new considerations in the workplace. Explaining that the people need to buy in and avoid the kind of talk that others have found offensive, without retaliation against others who engage in seemingly non-politically correct talk is a difficult and telling argument. Thanks for all the light you shed on these and other workplace issues!

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