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What is "quid pro quo" workplace sexual harassment?

Many people find the federal standards on sexual harassment in the workplace to be confusing, but they don't have to be. According to documentation provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment involves either the creation of a hostile work environment or what is called quid pro quo harassment.

In a hostile work environment claim, an individual shows how behavior or speech on the part of a manager or co-worker detracts from their ability to safely do their job or advance their career. Quid pro quo cases establish the attempt of someone in a position of power or authority over another person to use their position to solicit sexual or romantic favors in return for workplace benefits.

What does quid pro quo mean?

In order to understand if you have been the victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment at work, you need to understand what quid pro quo means. It is a Latin term that, when literally translated, means "this for that." The definition makes it relatively easy to understand what kinds of interactions result in quid pro quo harassment claims.

If your boss calls you into the office and offers to bump up your annual performance review and the potential raise that it comes with if you attend a special event as their date, that is a form of quid pro quo harassment. It is also possible for someone with a position of authority at your workplace to use a potential promotion to solicit sexual favors by asking how far someone would go to secure the job and making obvious but indirect gestures or jokes to prompt compliance with their sexual demands.

Some people will even take it to a greater extreme by threatening an individual with disciplinary action, loss of shifts or the termination of their position should they not comply with romantic or sexual advances. Both positive rewards and threats of punishment could lead to quid pro quo claims.

How do you prove what happened if no one else was there?

In hostile work environment cases, it is relatively straightforward for a plaintiff to bring in witnesses who can attest to the behavior of other people in the workplace. Unfortunately, quid pro quo harassment often happens off the clock or behind closed doors in a manager's office. It can be very difficult to prove what has happened in a court of law, and many victims may feel reticent about coming forward with what they believe is a "he said, she said" claim.

Keeping a private, written record of inappropriate advances or requests made by your employer or manager could help demonstrate a pattern of behavior of sexual harassment. You may also be able to speak with other current or former employees to establish that you are not the only person this individual has approached with inappropriate quid pro quo requests.

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