Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment typically takes one of two forms:

  • Quid pro quo harassment—Literally translated from the Latin, quid pro quo means “this for that.” In quid pro quo sexual harassment, there is a promise of a work-related benefit, or the threat of a work-related sanction, in
    exchange for sexual favors.
  • The creation of a hostile environment based on sex—A hostile environment based on sex exists when an employee is subject to a pattern of exposure to unwanted sexual behavior in the workplace, and where supervisors or managers take no steps to discourage the inappropriate behavior.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment necessarily involves a person who has authority over the victim employee. The action by the manager or supervisor may involve the promise of any work-related benefit—a promotion, raise, new office, opportunity to travel, exclusion from undesirable assignments, access to benefits—in exchange for some type of sexual favor. Conversely, it may include threats of work-related punishment—assignment of undesirable tasks, demotion, denial of benefits, rejection for raise or promotion, transfer to another office—if the victim refuses to engage in sexual conduct.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment may be male to female, female to male, or even same sex.

 

The Creation of a Hostile Environment Based on Sex

A hostile environment claim customarily involves wrongful conduct by both supervisors and co-workers. However, a hostile environment can exist where employers condone wrongful acts by clients, customers, suppliers and even delivery persons.
A hostile environment will be considered to exist where there is repeated exposure to behavior that is sexually oriented, such that the sexual nature of the behavior pervades the work environment. Typically, an employee who finds the behavior offensive must report the behavior to a supervisor, and there must either be no response or an inadequate response. The courts have held a wide range of behaviors to potentially create a hostile environment, including:

  • Publicly displayed pictures, cartoons, images, dolls, statuettes or icons with a sexual theme or of a sexual nature
  • Pervasive telling of obscene, dirty or sexually related jokes or stories
  • Repeated touching of a sexual nature, without permission or consent
  • The use of derogatory terms with a sexual meaning
  • E-mails, memos or other communications with sexual material included

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