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Hostile Work Environment & Quid Pro Quo: Two Types of Sexual Harassment

April 5, 2021
By Haeggquist & Eck

When you think about what sexual harassment is, you may think about the specific behaviors that constitute sexual harassment – such as unwanted touching, groping or sexual comments. Legally, however, there are two specific categories of sexual harassment — hostile work environment and quid pro quo.

Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment

Most people have heard the phrase “hostile work environment.” However, a hostile work environment is not, as many assume it to be, a workplace where employees feel overworked or micromanaged. It’s not even a place where a boss is constantly yelling or throwing things.

Legally, a hostile work environment is a hostility based on an employee’s membership in a protected class, such as their race, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The harassment must be serious and pervasive – not just an isolated or occasional off-the-cuff remark – and make it nearly impossible for you to do your job.

The following behaviors are examples of conduct that can lead to a hostile work environment:

  • Unwanted physical contact of any kind
  • Verbal comments about a person’s appearance or body, even if intended as a compliment
  • Derogatory comments or “jokes” that malign a particular sex
  • Attachments or links in company emails or instant messages that contain pornographic or sexually offensive material
  • Displaying imagery or messages of a sexual nature in the workplace

Anyone at a company can contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment. This includes business owners, executives, managers, supervisors, regular employees, independent contractors, and other such personnel. When employees experience inappropriate behavior, they must first make it clear to the perpetrator that the conduct is unwelcome and tell management of the situation. If the company doesn’t intervene in a meaningful manner to stop the sexual harassment from reoccurring, then the employee should seek an employment law attorney to help them assert their rights.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

The second type of sexual harassment is known as “quid pro quo.” This is a Latin phrase that means “this for that,” and implies there is an exchange taking place. Within the context of sexual harassment in the workplace, that exchange is often a career incentive for a sexual favor. Unlike a hostile work environment, quid pro quo is also characterized by a power dynamic that concerns someone who has authority over an employee, to whom the offer is made.

Workplace incentives the authority figure may offer in exchange for a sexual favor include the following:

  • Pay raise
  • Promotion
  • Placement on a preferred account
  • Job security during a round of layoffs
  • Protection from termination for otherwise justifiable motives

If any of the benefits listed above is contingent upon a subordinate performing a sexual favor for a superior, then quid pro quo sexual harassment has occurred. Offers may be explicit or implied, and they need neither be accepted nor completed. Merely proposing the offer is all it takes to cross the line.

Do You Need Legal Assistance?

If you believe you experienced sexual harassment at work in either of its forms, it’s important to reach out to an attorney as soon as possible. By evaluating your situation, a lawyer like one of ours at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP can offer potential options to help you take the next step with your claim.

We are committed and driven to helping employees assert their rights, especially after they’ve experienced sexual harassment. When you work with Haeggquist & Eck, LLP, we can help you pursue the compensation you are entitled to.

For more information about our services or to schedule a free initial consultation, please contact us online or call (619) 468-5222 today.

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