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July 31, 2023 Employment Law

A Guide to the Two Major Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a serious problem in America’s workplaces. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 5,581 reports of sexual harassment were filed in 2021. And the problem affects everyone. Over the period of 2018-2021, only 78.2% of sexual harassment charges were filed by women, indicating that over 20% of men experience sexual harassment in the workplace. As widespread as this problem is, however, federal law recognizes only two types of workplace sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo. If you have experienced either type, please consider speaking to a Norfolk employment lawyer

Hostile Work Environment 

Hostile work environment sexual harassment is unwelcomed conduct by supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim comes into contact on the job that makes the work environment intimidating, hostile, or offensive. This could include: 

  • Making sexual remarks to the victim
  • Inappropriately touching the victim
  • Making inappropriate remarks about other members of the victim’s protected class
  • Teasing, name-calling, or ridiculing the victim
  • Stalking or following the victim, either at work, online, or off-site 
  • Making unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors 
  • Sharing lewd photographs or texts with the victim

For hostile work environment sexual harassment to violate the law, it must be (1) unwelcome, (2) subjectively abusive to the victim, and (3) objectively severe and pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive. 

To determine whether a pattern of harassing conduct was “severe and pervasive,” courts consider: 

  • The frequency of the unwelcome conduct
  • The severity of the conduct
  • Whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating
  • Whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with work performance
  • The effect on the employee’s psychological wellbeing 
  • Whether the harasser was a superior of the employee

Quid Pro Quo 

“Quid pro quo” is a Latin term meaning “this for that.” In the sexual harassment context, it occurs when the perpetrator conditions an employment benefit on the victim performing a sexual favor for the perpetrator. Such benefits could include: 

  • Continued employment
  • A raise or promotion 
  • A favorable performance review
  • Better or easier work assignments
  • A more flexible work schedule

Quid pro quo sexual harassment can also occur where the perpetrator threatens a negative employment action against the victim for failing to indulge his or her sexual requests, including termination, demotion, denial of promotion, or reduction in pay. 

To prove quid pro quo harassment, the victim must establish: 

  1. The victim was an employee of the defendant employer
  2. The alleged harasser made unwelcome sexual advances or engaged in unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature 
  3. Terms of employment, job benefits, or favorable working conditions were contingent on the victim’s acceptance of the alleged harasser’s sexual advances
  4. At the time of the conduct, the alleged harasser was an employee of the defendant employer
  5. The victim was harmed by the conduct
  6. The alleged harasser’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the victim’s harm

Hold Perpetrators Accountable With Help From a Norfolk Employment Lawyer

If you have been the victim of either a hostile work environment or quid pro quo sexual harassment, an experienced attorney can help you pursue your case. For more information, please contact a Norfolk employment lawyer at Pierce / Jewett by calling 757-304-6655 or using our online contact form.