Quid pro quo, latin for “something for something,” typically refers to a situation in which a person provides goods or services in exchange for something else, particularly a favor. In the context of United States law, quid pro quo sexual harassment is when a supervisor makes sex, sexual favors, or other forms of sexual contact pertinent to an employees or job candidates condition of employment. Read on to learn more about this multifaceted lawsuit claim, as well as how an employment law attorney can help you file a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Forms of Workplace Sexual Harassment
In United States labor law, workplace sexual harassment can take two forms: “quid pro quo” harassment or hostile work environment harassment. Quid pro quo harassment commonly refers to when an authority figure within an organization requires sex, sexual contact or sexual favors from an employee or job candidate as a condition of their employment. Moreover, the supervisor must have hierarchical authority over the employee in that they have deciding-power over hiring, firing and promotions. In this case, the power dynamic is that in which the supervisor can use their position of authority to extract sexual relationship based on the subordinates need for employment.
Hostile work environment harassment, in contrast, is when a employee or supervisor exhibits immature, discriminatory, and/or sexual behavior in the workplace that another employee finds inappropriate, uncomfortable and/or hostile. While these behaviors may be sexual in nature, the key distinction is that they do not include a “this for that” exchange, whereby sexual activity is linked (or perceived to be linked) to employment decisions. That said, common sexual hostile work environment behaviors include fondling, suggestive remarks, sexually-suggestive photos, use of sexual language or off-color jokes. While small annoyances or isolated incidents are often not considered sufficient means for a case, incidents where the defendant is is routinely hostile, offensive or intimidating are reasonable grounds.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment In-Depth
To reiterate, quid pro quo sexual harassment refers to workplace situations in which an employee or job applicant’s submissions or rejections of sexual advances or conduct of a sexual nature is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting that individual. Examples of this type of harassment can include:
- A supervisor requesting sexual favors as a condition for hiring, promotion, advancement, or opportunities
- A manager threatening to terminate, transfer, demote, or otherwise adversely affect an employee’s career if sexual favors are not given or continued
- A supervisor promising or giving an employee a raise or promotion because of real or expected sexual favors
- A supervisor giving or offering an employee a favorable assignment with the expectation that the employee will repay it with sexual favors
It is also important to recognize the difference between awkward employee interactions and those that constitute as quid pro quo sexual harassment. Human interactions are very complex and sometimes the lines are unclear, so it is important to acknowledge the difference before making an unrequited case. With that in mind, consider that quid pro quo harassment is not:
- A consensual relationship between a superior and subordinate that does not have any effect (or anticipated effect) on employment decisions
- A consensual relationship between employees who are not in a position to influence employment decisions affecting one or the other partner
- Any sexual harassment that does not involve a “this for that” exchange; this, however, would be considered grounds for hostile work environment
- Any “this for that” exchange that is not sexual in nature but affects employment decisions (for example, the exchange of money or favors that are not sexual in nature for employment benefits)
What Employers Need to Know About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Counter to hostile work environment cases, where the plaintiff must provide considerable evidence for a pattern of hostile, offensive or intimidating behavior, a single incident is usually sufficient for a quid pro quo sexual harassment case. Thus, employers must be especially vigilant and responsive in reporting, investigating and addressing quid-pro-quo harassment related behavior and complaints in the workplace.
Sexual harassment is a serious offense and employers may held responsible. In the case of quid pro quo sexual harassment, for example, employers can be held liable for placing the supervisor in a position of power within the company at the time of the harassment. Moreover, employers can also face serious consequences for failing to prevent inappropriate or maladaptive workplace conditions, unless it can proven that the employer took active steps to prevent the harassment.
In addition to lawsuits and financial repercussions, a quid pro quo sexual harassment case can affect an organization in workplace culture as well. Other employees may experience emotional or psychological stress or anxiety with regard to potential or future harassment in the workplace, causing them to be significantly less engaged and and responsive. This can often cause rising rates absenteeism as well as decreased company-wide productivity. This can even provide sufficient impetus for employees to quit their jobs, increasing employee turnover, and as a result, causing a direct blow to company reputation.
When to Speak to an Employment Law Attorney
While there are many steps employees can take to combat sexual harassment in the workplace internally, such as contacting their HR department, sometimes employment services can only do so much. Furthermore, many employees fear communicating harassment for fear of retaliation by their supervisor. In these situations, contacting a employment law attorney can be a huge help. A lawyer can privately work with you to analyze the details of your situation to determine if your case is sufficient for civil litigation. They can also guide you through the process of filing a charge against your employer or a civil lawsuit, when appropriate. Contact a local employment law attorney today to learn how can help with your sexual harassment case.