HR 101: Quick Facts on Quid Pro Quo Harassment

One pervasive employment law problem present in many American workplaces is sexual harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 6,587 claims for sex-based harassment allegations, including charges alleging sexual harassment.

Employees suffer from the detrimental effects of this kind of harassment, and many face repercussions when they stand up for themselves or draw the line with their aggressors. Victims of sexual harassment, however, don’t have to face this serious problem by themselves. They can seek the support and counsel of a sexual harassment attorney to advocate for and advise them in their complaints.

Workplace sexual harassment comes in two forms: hostile environment harassment (e.g. verbal harassment from a boss) and quid pro quo harassment.

This post will address quid pro quo sexual harassment, which is unfortunately common in offices.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment: What is It?

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Let’s first define the Latin phrase before diving into the legal term. The phrase “quid pro quo” means “something for something.” It’s similar to the phrase, “you scratch my back, I scratch yours.”

Quid pro quo harassment, therefore, happens in the workplace when an authority figure, such as a manager or a CEO, provides or merely hints that they will give the employee something in exchange for some kind of sexual favor. This “benefit” can be in the form of a raise, a promotion that will further an employee’s career and employment perks like permanent remote work.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment also happens when an authority figure says that they will not reprimand or fire the employee in return for the satisfaction of sexual demand. A job candidate may also be the subject of this form of harassment if the authority figure based the hiring decision on the rejection or acceptance of sexual advances.

What are Examples of Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

The victim and the harasser in a quid pro quo harassment situation can be opposite or same genders and of any gender identity or sexual orientation. Many quid pro quo sexual harassment cases involve a male perpetrator taking advantage of a female worker, but any combination of identities, orientations and genders is possible.

Here are example scenarios to help you better understand this type of harassment:

Example 1:

Arnold’s new job in the mailroom of a big law office requires him to work nights. Gerald, his supervisor, frequently makes sexually suggestive remarks to Arnold. Gerald hints that Arnold can enjoy the sought-after morning shift if he says “yes” to the sexual advances.

Example 2:

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Dan’s boss, Gina, makes frequent flirtatious remarks when they’re alone. This, unfortunately, makes Dan extremely uncomfortable. Dan pretends that he doesn’t hear them because he needs the job.

Gina asks Dan to stay late one Friday evening to work on a project. She asks him to give her foot massage and comes up with sexually suggestive comments about taking things to the next level, reminding him that she can overlook his so-called attempts at insubordination.

Example 3:

Mark, Nina’s manager, asks her to have supper with him at his house. Nina politely declines.

Mark asks again. This time, he hints that there may be some discussion during dinner about a better job title in the organization.

Nina is on the fence but says “yes,” because she needs the promotion and does not want to jeopardize her chances by declining the manager.

What to Do If You’re a Victim of Quid Pro Quo Harassment

File an incident report or bring the quid pro quo sexual harassment matter directly to HR. This, however, may not always be doable, as the victim may feel unsure, ashamed or stunned on what to do next.

After all, knowing the person you can trust can sometimes be difficult.

If you fear workplace retaliation for filing a quid pro quo harassment complaint, reach out to a sexual harassment lawyer for guidance and support.

How to Prevent Quid Pro Quo Harassment in the Workplace

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Employers should go beyond address claims of quid pro quo harassment. They must also take matters a step further by preventing this issue from occurring.

Here are a few suggestions to create a sexual harassment-free environment in the workplace:

Hire Candidates with Strong Values and Ethics

Inappropriate sexual conduct in the workplace can’t exist without workers. Recruiting and hiring people with strong ethics and values, therefore, is a must. Preventing quid pro quo sexual harassment begins with the hiring process.

Businesses should make this a serious talking point in the final stages of the interview. This will push the new hires to actively stop unwelcome behaviors they witness.

Create a Culture that Empowers Workers to Actively Support a Harassment-Free Workplace

Everyone, regardless of their position in the organization, should feel safe at work.

Employers should check in with their employees regularly about their quality of life in the company. Come up with a team of individuals who would like to volunteer to cultivate a harassment-free, inclusive and supportive workplace.

Publicly award or recognize people in the organization who make the workplace safe and comfortable for everyone. Also, company leaders should make things undeniably clear that a zero-tolerance policy exists toward quid pro quo sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

Implement an Effective Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Program

New hires should read and acknowledge in writing a sexual harassment handbook or document to educate them on the organization’s expectations, standards and zero-tolerance related to sexual harassment. All employees should go through sexual harassment education and training to safeguard themselves, their work environment and the organization.

Never stay silent if you’re a victim of quid pro quo harassment. Even if sexual harassment happens all the time in many organizations around the world, you should take action to stop and prevent sexually unwelcome behaviors in the workplace.

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