Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is any work benefit a supervisor offers to an employee under their control in exchange for unwanted sexual favors or activity. Anyone can be a victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

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Your workplace is a second home. You worked hard to get where you are and enjoy what you do.

However, certain situations can make your work an unfriendly and unwelcoming place. Your supervisor or someone else at work in a position of power over you may begin to promise you work benefits in exchange for unwanted and unsolicited sexual favors.

This is quid pro quo sexual harassment. It can be problematic in creating safe work environments. For example, a study in New York found that 12.2 percent of women and 9.5 percent of men experienced quid pro quo sexual harassment throughout their careers. That is why it is a form of sex discrimination protected under the law, including federal law.

What Is Quid Pro Quo Harassment/Sexual Harassment?

Quid pro quo is Latin for “something for something.”

Quid pro quo harassment happens when a boss, manager, or supervisor promises to give a job benefit to an employee or worker in exchange for favors — usually sexual, but not necessarily. This abuse of power by the supervisor is a form of sexual harassment.

Anyone can be a victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment — man or woman, an employee or a job applicant pressured by the hiring manager.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment can happen in two ways:

  1. The manager promises some benefit in exchange for something of a sexual nature. Examples of a benefit include a pay increase, a promotion, being hired for a job, staying employed, transferring to a better location, or receiving a good employee evaluation.
  2. The manager promises not to do something in exchange for something of a sexual nature. Examples can include termination, demotion, a pay decrease, a decrease in hours, receiving a poor employee evaluation, or a transfer to a worse location.

The sexual favor or act requested by the supervisor can include:

  • Kissing
  • Touching (hugging, physical contact)
  • Dating (i.e., spending time outside of work together)
  • Participating in sexual acts
  • Sexual intercourse
sexual harassment at work

Examples of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Here are some examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment.

  • Example 1: A manager is told he must terminate some employees at the company due to budget costs. While he is speaking to a female employee, he places his hand on hers and tells her, “I am supposed to let go of some employees. How much do you want to keep your job?” His hand moves to her thigh. Here, the manager is offering the employee the benefit of keeping her job in exchange for a sexual relationship with him.
  • Example 2: A supervisor constantly asks one of her female employees out on a date, but the employee declines. One day, the supervisor tells the employee, “Let’s go out to dinner. Meet me at the pizza place on 3rd street. If you do not come, consider yourself out of a job. If you do, you can have a 10 percent pay raise.” The employee does not show up. She loses her job the next day.

How to Prove Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Employees who allege quid pro quo sexual harassment need to provide proof of their claim. The following are the elements necessary to prove quid pro quo sexual harassment:

  1. The victim and perpetrator are members of the same company — or the victim is a job applicant, and the perpetrator is the hiring manager.
  2. The perpetrator has a position of power over the victim.
  3. The victim was the recipient of unwanted sexual advances or offers made by the perpetrator.
  4. Receiving job benefits (or the actual job) or not receiving job disadvantages was conditional on these requests and advances being accepted.
  5. The victim suffered harm.

Many courts will not find a case of quid pro quo sexual harassment if you refuse your manager’s sexual advances, but then they never follow through on their threat to terminate you or reduce your salary. However, you may still have a claim if you give in to the supervisor’s advances.

How Companies Try to Prevent Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

There are different measures companies can take to prevent quid pro quo sexual harassment at work. Here are some examples of the strategies companies utilize:

Develop a Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Policy

Most companies have a handbook setting out numerous policies of the company. One section is usually devoted to equal employment opportunities. Companies also include (or should include) a section in this chapter about quid pro quo sexual harassment.

The wording should prohibit quid pro quo sexual harassment and retaliation against employees who do not comply with the quid pro quo.

Employees and employers probably received this handbook during the hiring process. Companies should make sure they are kept updated on any changes to the handbook. The handbook should also be readily available in case an employer or employee cannot find theirs.

Create a Process for How to Report Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Claims

It is not enough for companies to have policies against quid pro quo sexual harassment. There must also be a process in place for employees to report any claims involving it.

The process should have clear instructions for reporting claims and, ideally, should have the option of having the claims be given confidentially to encourage aggrieved employees to come forward.

Establish the Investigatory Procedures and Disciplinary Actions to Take for Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Claims

Every claim of quid pro quo sexual harassment should be investigated in a timely manner by a designated department in the company. When evidence is found of quid pro quo sexual harassment, there needs to be swift and effective punishment that is applied indiscriminately to the perpetrator’s position in the company.

Provide Training on the Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Policies of the Company

Lastly, all levels of the company can provide training to both employees and supervisors/managers where they can learn about the mechanisms implemented to report quid pro sexual harassment and the penalties for it.

Reporting Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Being the victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment can leave you feeling helpless. Your supervisor or boss is asking for sexual favors or some type of personal relationship in exchange for work benefits, including possibly the ability to keep your job. Know that your supervisor is wrongfully flaunting their position of authority to coerce you into submitting to their advances — and you can hold them accountable for their actions.

One way to report quid pro quo sexual harassment is by filing a complaint with your company’s internal reporting system. This may resolve the problem. If it does not, you can file a federal claim.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment falls under sex discrimination and is thereby prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Thus, if you experience quid pro quo sexual harassment, you can file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

You have 180 or 300 calendar days from the day the quid pro quo sexual harassment took place to file a charge of discrimination. The 180-day deadline is extended to 300 days in cases where a state agency enforces a law prohibiting employment discrimination for quid pro quo sexual harassment.

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State laws on reporting quid pro quo sexual harassment will vary.

If you see quid pro quo sexual harassment happening, you can try to intervene. Sometimes, if a manager or supervisor sees that someone else witnesses their inappropriate behavior, they will stop. You can also encourage your colleague to file a claim with the company or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If that is not possible, you can create a buddy system so that you are together when either of you deals with the manager.

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What Are Potential Payouts for Quid Pro Quo Cases?

Potential payouts for quid pro quo sexual harassment cases will vary on a case-by-case basis. Damages that may be recoverable include the following:

  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Lost work opportunities
  • Employment reinstatement (if you were fired)
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress damages
  • Punitive damages (rare)

If you’re in trouble, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). A trained professional can help you.