Yes, Quid Pro Quo is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sex and Your Boss – No Quid Pro Quo

Your boss at work has offered you a “benefit” in exchange for a sexual favor. Does this constitute an offense, and would you have a legal claim? Since 1976, the principle of quid pro quo sexual harassment has been applied in courts in the United States. So if you are pressured for sexual favors by upper management at the office, you potentially can sue and are not as powerless as you may feel at the time. 

The courts recognize the potential for quid pro quo abuse in the workplace. The recognition has gone some way to leveling the playing fields in the work environment. Let’s take a closer look and examine what quid pro quo means, what qualifies as quid pro quo, and what you need to be able to prove if you are a victim.

What exactly is Quid Pro Quo?

A quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a supervisor, either expressly or indirectly, requires a subordinate to submit to sexual advances by threatening the subordinate with an adverse employment action, such as a bad review, demotion, or termination. Quid pro quo translates from Latin into English as “Something for something”.  So, for instance, an example of quid pro quo harassment would be when your supervisor suggests that you perform a sexual service, and they will make sure that you are promoted; they are offering you something for something.

A Promise or a Threat

Quid pro quo applies both when the supervisor promises you a benefit and when the supervisor threatens you with a negative consequence should you refuse their advances.

Examples of Benefits

  • The promise of a promotion
  • The promise of a raise
  • The promise of a larger office
  • The promise of preferential shift times
  • The promise of easier work or a better relocation

Examples of Threats

  • The threat of being fired from your job
  • The threat of being demoted
  • The threat of being relocated
  • The threat of being put on night shift

Important Factors to Note

  • The threat or promise may be direct or even implied.
  • The perpetrator must be in a position of authority – Co-workers who are not superior in company position to you cannot be sued for quid pro quo sexual harassment. The perpetrator must influence the outcome due to their superior level in the hierarchy.
  • The perpetrator must follow through on the threat. There will be no quid pro quo claim if the supervisor does not follow through with the threat. However, there may still be a claim on a “hostile work environment” basis.

What Do You Need to Prove?

You will need to prove the following to be successful in your claim:

  1. You were an employee at the time of the incident, or you provided services to the employer through a contract.
  2. The supervisor was superior in the company, and they made unwelcome sexual advances to you.
  3. Depending on your response to the approach, some terms of your employment were decided.
  4. The supervisor was employed by the company or an agent of the company at the time of the incident.
  5. You were harmed by the incident.
  6. The supervisor’s behaviour was a significant factor in causing you harm.

In Summary

If you are threatened with a quid pro quo at work, you should stand your ground. The law will protect you. You are not as vulnerable as you think. Don’t be one of the 58% of women harassed at work who don’t file a complaint or the 13% of men experience quid pro quo at the workplace.  Let’s all stand together and stamp out quid pro quo.

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