Sexual harassment is a widespread yet increasingly reported occurrence in the workplace. While many victims of sexual harassment never report their abuse, the ‘me too’ movement and growing awareness has motivated many victims to step forward.
Sexual harassment comes in two forms. The first, hostile work environment, arises when a supervisor, coworker, subordinate, vendor, or anyone else in the workplace engages in inappropriate sexual conduct, such as unwanted touching, making sexual jokes or comments, posting or looking at sexually suggestive pictures or videos, or repeatedly asking you out on a date, and as a result creates an intimidating or demeaning environment.
The second form of sexual harassment, quid pro quo, occurs when a supervisor takes advantage of his or her position of power and uses it to procure sexual favors from a subordinate or even a job applicant.
Defining quid pro quo
Quid pro quo, Latin for “something for something,” refers to any act where an outcome depends on the fulfillment of certain requests or demands. In the context of sexual harassment, a quid pro quo occurs when a supervisor makes a subordinate’s role – or a job candidate’s hiring – contingent on performing sexual favors.
To qualify as quid pro quo, the actions must be unwanted. Yet even though an employee may have acquiesced to a supervisor’s proposition, that does not mean that the proposition was welcome. An employee who willingly performs a sexual favor for a supervisor based on the belief that doing so would protect the employee’s job or further his or her career may still be considered a victim of sexual harassment.
Reporting quid pro quo sexual harassment
Many people who experience quid pro quo sexual harassment are afraid to report the harassment. Many worry about the professional consequences of disclosing the harassment, particularly when the harasser is a powerful or well-respected employee of the company. Others may feel that reporting the harassment is futile due to a lack of evidence or the belief that the company will protect the abuser at all costs. Yet, filing a complaint, either internally within the company or externally with the courts or a government agency may be the only way to stop the abuse and protect the employee from retaliation.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a pervasive issue that is massively underreported. While victims of sexual harassment may be reluctant to pursue claims against their employers, anyone who feels that they have been sexually harassed should arrange a confidential consultation with an experienced employment attorney to learn about their rights and options and determine whether reporting the abuse makes sense for them.