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What constitutes quid pro quo sexual harassment?

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2023 | Employment Law

Sexual harassment can occur in any work environment. Someone working at a medical office, fast food restaurant or car dealership might have to deal with a coworker or supervisor who is consistently inappropriate.

Sexual harassment generally involves more than just one passing joke. It usually involves consistent (or especially egregious) misconduct that makes someone feel unsafe on the job, impacts their job performance or compromises their basic human dignity. Some sexual harassment claims arise because multiple coworkers create a hostile work environment that reflect challenges like these. Quid pro quo sexual harassment, on the other hand, often involves just one other person.

Quid pro quo means “this for that”

To understand quid pro quo sexual harassment, people need to understand the meaning of the phrase. It is a Latin term that translates to “this for that.” Some people clarify the phrase by saying “one hand washes the other.” Essentially, both parties in a quid pro quo arrangement do something for the benefit of the other party. Quid pro quo agreements are not inherently inappropriate, but quid pro quo sexual harassment is. Typically, quid pro quo harassment involves someone in a managerial or leadership position harassing someone subordinate to them.

They may offer a promotion, raise or other job opportunity if an employee performs certain sexual acts or goes on a date with them. Quid pro quo harassment can also be negative, meaning that one party threatens the other with punishment if they do not submit to the demands for physical contact or romantic interactions.

Quid pro quo harassment unfairly and illegally ties someone’s eligibility for work opportunities to their romantic or sexual relationships. If an employee can prove that quid pro quo harassment occurred, their employer should seek to protect them. Proper interventions could include transferring the person engaging in harassment to another department or even terminating them from their position.

Companies should not punish workers for speaking up about harassment even if the worker complaining is an hourly employee and the offending worker is an executive. Unfortunately, many Michigan workers have a hard time standing up against quid pro quo harassment. Recognizing misconduct as sexual harassment when it occurs may give people the courage to report the abuse they’ve endured and/or to seek legal guidance concerning their rights and options.