Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs whenever a man or a woman is subjected to one or more unwanted sexual advances from one of their fellow employees. The advances might take the form of inappropriate jokes, touching, or requests for sexual acts. In order to prosecute cases like this, the sexual advances have to be either severe enough to cause emotional or physical harm to a person or be part of a consistent pattern that has continued over an extended period of time. Because of the disruption that this form of abuse causes in the workplace, the law breaks it down further into two subcategories, which are quid pro quo employment decisions and hostile work environment issues.

What Are Quid Pro Quo Employment Decisions?

Quid pro quo is a legal term that essentially means that favors are being traded for the exchange of goods or services. Usually, it poses no legal issues unless the goods or services that a person is trying to exchange are unethical or illegal. An example of this can be seen in quid pro quo employment decisions that are made by a supervisor or other person who is in a position of power in the workplace. What generally happens in cases like this is that a person’s promotion, pay raise, or hiring status is based on their willingness to perform sexual favors for the person in the position of power. If they attempt to say no to the sexual advances, then it is clearly stated or implied that another person who is willing to perform the sexual favors will get the job or extra pay instead. Another form of quid pro quo employment decisions occurs whenever an employee’s current job is threatened if they are unwilling to perform sexual favors for a person in a position of power. In other words, a supervisor might say that they will be fired or demoted if they don’t perform a specific sexual act for them. Sometimes, employees in this scenario are threatened with job transfers or demeaning job posts too.

What Are Hostile Work Environment Issues?

Hostile work environment issues that are part of a claim of sexual harassment are different from quid pro quo cases because they happen over a period of time and they can be caused by a harasser who is not necessarily in a position of power. In order to prove this type of case in court, an attorney has to show that the employee who is receiving the unwanted sexual advances attempted on one or more occasions to seek the company’s help to stop the abuse. If the company made little to no effort to correct the issue, then there is a good chance that justice can be sought for the victim.

Can Quid Pro Quo Employment Decisions and Hostile Work Environment Issues Occur Simultaneously?

In severe cases of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is possible for both quid pro quo employment decisions and hostile work environment issues to occur simultaneously. This happens most often whenever the person who is in a position of power over the victim is also the person who is in charge of hiring, pay raises, or promotions. The victim is threatened with negative consequences as soon as they object to the inappropriate sexual advances. Sometimes, the harasser doesn’t actually voice what the negative consequences will be though. As soon as their request for sexual favors is denied, the victim simply gets their application or request for a better job position turned down. Or they might simply begin receiving poor performance reviews despite their hard work and good job ethics.

What Should a Victim of Sexual Harassment Do in Either of These Scenarios?

In order to have the best chance of winning this type of case, it is important that victims of sexual harassment record in detail every occurrence of the unwanted sexual advances that have taken place. They also need to get copies of any written requests for help that they made to their fellow employees or supervisors. A copy of the company’s policies regarding the expected conduct of the employees is helpful for attorneys to use in court too.

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