what is quid pro sexual harassment

What is Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment?

You’re here because you want to understand quid pro quo sexual harassment, and what to do if you experience it. Let’s dive in.Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when a job benefit is directly tied to an employee submitting to unwanted sexual advances. It’s a form of sexual blackmail, where the harasser holds power over the victim’s employment. Some examples:

  • A boss promising a promotion if the employee goes on a date with them12
  • A supervisor threatening to fire an employee unless they have sex3
  • A manager giving an employee a raise in exchange for sexual favors14

The key things that make it quid pro quo:

  1. Sexual advances or conduct are unwanted by the employee
  2. Submission to the conduct is linked to employment benefits or avoiding harm
  3. The harasser has power over the victim’s job

So, if your boss hits on you, it’s not automatically quid pro quo harassment. But if they say “sleep with me or you’re fired,” that crosses the line into illegal territory.

How is it Different from a Hostile Work Environment?

Quid pro quo is one of the two main types of sexual harassment, along with hostile work environment. A hostile environment involves pervasive, severe sexual conduct that creates an abusive atmosphere, even without specific employment consequences.2The main differences:

  • Quid pro quo ties the harassment directly to employment decisions
  • A hostile environment can be created by coworkers, not just supervisors
  • Quid pro quo doesn’t need to be “severe or pervasive” – even a single incident can be illegal

Both are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But quid pro quo cases are considered more clear-cut, since the harassment directly impacts a tangible job benefit.

What Are Some Real Examples?

It helps to look at real court cases to understand what qualifies. Here are some examples where quid pro quo was found:5

  • A supervisor told an employee “I better get good sex tonight or you’re fired”
  • A manager repeatedly asked an employee for sexual favors in exchange for promotions
  • A boss threatened to block an employee’s pay raise unless she dated him

And cases where it didn’t rise to that level:

  • A supervisor made frequent sexual comments, but didn’t link it to employment decisions
  • A coworker repeatedly asked another coworker out on dates
  • An employee had a consensual relationship with their boss

The key is that the harassment has to be directly tied to a job benefit or detriment by someone with power over the victim’s employment.

What Should You Do If It Happens?

If you experience quid pro quo harassment, there are some important steps to take:

  1. Say no firmly. Make it clear the advances are unwanted. This helps establish the conduct was unwelcome.
  2. Document everything. Keep records of what was said/done, along with dates, times, witnesses, etc. Save any emails, texts, notes or other evidence.
  3. Report it internally. Most companies have procedures to report harassment. Follow those procedures, get a copy of your complaint, and allow them to investigate.
  4. Consider legal action. If your employer doesn’t properly address it, you may need to file a charge with the EEOC and potentially sue. Consulting an attorney is advisable.

Let’s look at each step in more detail.

1) Say No Firmly

It’s important to communicate that the sexual conduct is unwanted and offensive. A clear, firm rejection helps establish that it was unwelcome.You could say something like:”I want to make it clear that your advances are completely unwanted and inappropriate. Do not proposition me again or there will be consequences.”Get it in writing if possible. For example, if your boss propositions you over email, respond firmly rejecting it and stating it’s unwelcome.The key is to avoid any ambiguity that could allow the harasser to claim you welcomed the conduct.

2) Document Everything

Written records are crucial evidence for any future complaint or lawsuit. Document every incident of harassment in detail:

  • Date, time, location
  • Exactly what was said/done
  • Names of any witnesses
  • Your response rejecting the advances
  • Any employment consequences issued or threatened

Save any related emails, texts, notes, etc. Record any conversations if possible (check if your state allows recording without consent).The more detailed documentation you have, the stronger your case will be. Just be sure to keep records secure and confidential.

3) Report it Internally

Most companies have procedures to report sexual harassment outlined in their policies. Follow those procedures precisely.Put your complaint in writing to create an official record. Describe the specific incidents of quid pro quo harassment, identifying the harasser and any witnesses.Insist that your employer promptly investigate the complaint and take corrective action to stop the harassment. Get copies of any findings or disciplinary actions.If your employer doesn’t properly address it, or if you suffer retaliation for reporting it, that strengthens your case for legal action.

If your employer fails to address the quid pro quo harassment, you may need to file a formal charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting sexual harassment.You’ll need to file the charge within 180 days of the last incident of harassment. The EEOC will investigate and attempt conciliation with your employer.If that’s unsuccessful, they’ll issue you a “right to sue” letter allowing you to file a lawsuit against your employer in federal court.It’s highly advisable to have legal representation from an experienced employment attorney for this process. They can properly draft the EEOC charge, negotiate with your employer, and file suit if needed.Successful quid pro quo cases can result in the victim recovering:

  • Back pay for any lost wages/benefits
  • Compensatory damages for emotional distress
  • Punitive damages to punish the employer
  • Reinstatement to their former job
  • Attorney fees and court costs

So while it’s a difficult process, taking legal action can force accountability and provide compensation.

How Can Employers Prevent Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

Employers have a legal duty to prevent sexual harassment and promptly correct it when it occurs. Quid pro quo cases often result in strict liability, since the harassment directly impacts employment.Some best practices for employers:

  • Implement a clear anti-harassment policy. Prohibit sexual harassment, with multiple reporting channels. Specify disciplinary consequences.
  • Provide training to all employees. Ensure everyone understands what quid pro quo harassment is and that it’s prohibited.
  • Respond promptly to complaints. Investigate thoroughly and take corrective action. Follow all legal requirements.
  • Protect victims from retaliation. Make it clear retaliation for reporting won’t be tolerated.
  • Consider proactive audits. Have a third-party review procedures and workplace climate.
  • Lead by example. Ensure leadership models appropriate, professional behavior.

The key is to be proactive in prevention, while also having robust processes to properly address any incidents that do occur.

You Don’t Have to Tolerate Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is illegal, unethical, and can never be tolerated in the workplace. No one should ever have to endure that kind of abuse and mistreatment.If you experience it, remember:

  • You have rights and legal protections
  • Clearly reject the harassment and document everything
  • Report it through official channels
  • Consider filing an EEOC charge and lawsuit if it’s not properly addressed

And if you’re an employer, take active steps to prevent quid pro quo harassment before it happens. Implement strong policies, training, reporting procedures, and accountability.

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