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Types of Sexual Harassment at Work

September 9, 2021
By Haeggquist & Eck
Types of Sexual Harassment at Work

In the modern workplace, there are several protections in place to ensure that workers do not encounter unacceptable conditions in the workplace. One such condition that has been receiving increasing attention is that of sexual harassment. In the past and in current times, many industries have had ongoing issues concerning sexual harassment, whether between customers and employees, or managers and their subordinates. Following is a consideration of the two most often addressed types of sexual harassment in the work environment, quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

According to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, EEOC, it is unlawful to harass a person because of their sex, whether they are an applicant or an employee. If you have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, this should provide a useful guide to recognize if it was one of these types, and an attorney can help you determine the strength of your case and the size of your prospective settlement.

The U.S. EEOC declares as sexual harassment:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment in the Work Environment

In the workplace, requests for sexual favors are illegal under the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, and the harasser can be of any gender, while the victim can likewise be any gender. It is not the gender of the persons involved but the nature of the actions.

A quid pro quo sexual harassment case is one in which the harasser offers workplace opportunities, compensation, or other forms of value to the victim, contingent upon their consenting to sexual activity of some sort. The demand for a sexual favor in exchange for something is the essence of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

The American Bar Association defines quid pro quo harassment as being when a job benefit is tied directly to an employee submitting to the unwelcome sexual advances of an employer or supervisor. For example, a manager might require that an employee go on a date with them before considering them for a promotion or raise. Another more extreme example is an employer telling an employee they will fire them if they do not engage in unwelcome sexual activity.

Sexual Harassment in the Form of a Hostile Workplace Environment

If you were in a situation where it seemed like your ability to earn or get a promotion or change in your position at work depended on consent to sexual acts or accepting unwanted sexual advances or behavior, you may work in a hostile workplace.

Should your failure to engage in a quid pro quo relationship have long-lasting effects on your work environment, a hostile work environment claim may have developed. When you feel uncomfortable in your workplace for not having consented to certain acts, and if your prospects for advancement are limited, you may be entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages.

Compensatory damages can help you recover from opportunities that you might have lost, like the value of a promotion. Sometimes courts award punitive damages to the plaintiff to punish the offending party.

In instances involving sexual harassment, if your case were to go to a jury, punitive damages can cost your employer a lot of money. You need a lawyer who understands the rules and regulations in your state and how they apply to the unique facts and context of your case. Such an attorney can best apply rules and statutes to your situation to bring you the best possible outcome.

FAQs

Can Employers Sexually Harass Employees or Applicants?

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission notes that sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace in any form.

What is quid pro quo sexual harassment in the workplace?

If your employer or supervisor has said that for you to receive some form of a job benefit, you must engage in unwanted behavior of a sexual nature, you have experienced quid pro quo harassment.

What if my manager says I have to go on a date with him to get better shifts?

This is an instance of quid pro quo harassment where a job benefit is contingent on an unwelcome sexual advance, in this instance, a meeting of non-professional nature. The harassment need not be explicit either, with an attorney being helpful to determine the strength of your case.

How do I know if I’m experiencing hostile work environment sexual harassment?

When a co-worker impacts your ability to do your job professionally and free of undue pressure and negativity because you refused to engage in unwanted sexual advances, your hostile work environment case is rooted in sexual harassment.

Is my employer responsible if my supervisor sexually harasses me?

In some instances, when the employer had knowledge or had failed in addressing prior situations of sexual harassment, they may be liable for the sexual harassment of their employees. Consult with an attorney to determine whether the facts of your situation might represent a case of sexual harassment.

What Steps Can I Take if Someone Sexual Harassed Me in the Workplace?

When a coworker or supervisor sexually harasses you in the workplace, document the situation to create a record of evidence. This will vary depending upon the structure of the organization and who harassed you. If you work for a larger employer with a human resources department, it may offer a policy to protect against sexual harassment and steps to take if it occurred.

Remember, however, that human resources’ job is to protect the company, not you. Call an employment lawyer to protect you if you decide to go through your employer’s human resources process.

If you work for a company where the employer is also your direct supervisor, you may feel as if you have nowhere to turn. You may feel that your only option is to leave the job because of sexual harassment. That, however, does not mean you can’t recover damages for the wrongful loss of your job and earnings.

Aaron Olsen
Attorney, Aaron Olsen

In such cases, reach out to an attorney to consider your options to prevent ongoing harassment and recover damages if the sexual harassment threatens your job.

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