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Quid Pro Quo Harassment Explained

On Behalf of | Mar 20, 2020 | Firm News

There are two types of workplace sexual harassment that have been recognized in court: a hostile workplace environment and quid pro quo harassment. Though not quite as common as the creation of a hostile work environment, quid pro quo harassment is no less disturbing and traumatizing for an employee. That isn’t to say that quid pro quo sexual harassment doesn’t create a hostile work environment, but they are the two distinct categories of sexual harassment that courts recognize.

‘Quid Pro Quo’ Definition

The phrase “quid pro quo,” translated from Latin, means “something for something.” In the context of sexual harassment, this would look like a manager stating explicitly or implicitly to an employee that, say, she would get a pay raise if she agrees to engage in sexual acts with her manager. Quid pro quo harassment could also occur before employment even begins. For example, a hiring manager could point out his lack of a significant other and say “If you could help me out with that, we could definitely find a place for you here.” To many observers, it appears to be a form of bribery.

Tangible Employment Action

Quid pro quo is sexual harassment in and of itself regardless of whether or not the superior follows through on the implied threat or reward. Courts commonly recognize that a “tangible employment action” occurs when the subordinate who refuses his or her superior’s sexual advances suffers at work due to retaliation. A pay cut and reduced hours are two common examples of a tangible employment action.

Alternatively, two employees who are in the same power dynamic can generally have a romantic relationship without quid pro quo form of harassment coming up during their employment together (assuming your company doesn’t prohibit workplace relationships in the first place). On the flip side, it is theoretically possible for an employee and his or her supervisor to carry on an intimate relationship. Should things in the romantic relationship go south, however, their working relationship could become a minefield, which could turn into sexual harassment or other legal issues.

What To Do

Society is changing, and employees are rightfully becoming more empowered to speak up against sexual harassment in the workplace. If you are facing Quid Pro Quo sexually harassment or any other unwanted advances at work, DeWitt Law is here to help. Give us a call to schedule an in-depth and personalized discussion of your employment law needs.