Most of us have a broad understanding of what sexual harassment means in the workplace. The average person knows that it is unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. The average person also knows the range of actions that could subject an employer or supervisor to liability such as unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and so on. As transparent as this sounds, bringing sexual harassment claims can be stressful and convoluted. To simplify things, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has categorized sexual harassment into two distinct categories—Quid Pro Quo harassment (“QPQ”) and Hostile Environment harassment. These distinctions are important—not only are the standards for each different, but they mean different things in terms of employer liability.
Quid Pro Quo Harassment—“something for something” in Latin—is essentially sexual blackmail. It involves demands for sexual favors in exchange for some employment benefit like a promotion, a raise, or a recommendation. This can also happen when, for example, an employer threatens termination or a demotion if the employee does not provide sexual favors. On the other hand, Hostile Environment harassment occurs when sexual harassment at work sufficiently offends, humiliates, distresses, or intrudes upon its victim, so as to disrupt the victim’s emotional tranquility in the workplace, affect the victim’s ability to perform the job as usual, or otherwise interfere with and undermine the victim’s personal sense of well-being.
Recognizing different types of sexual harassment and identifying key differences is important in assessing your legal options. It is important to contact an employment lawyer who can accurately sift through the facts to determine what type of harassment you were subjected to.