We Fight For Employee Rights

Quid pro quo sexual harassment vs. hostile work environments

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2024 | Sexual Harassment

Despite all of the gains that have been made for workers in recent decades, on-the-job sexual harassment is still a pervasive problem.

In general, workplace sexual harassment can be broken down into two categories: quid pro quo harassment and a hostile work environment.

What’s the difference?

In general, quid pro quo sexual harassment is always intentional and focused. The victim faces either reward or punishment for their responses.

Quid pro quo” is Latin for “this for that,” and can involve any situation where a victim is offered job benefits, such as a promotion or better working conditions, in exchange for sexual favors. Conversely, it can also involve situations where an employee is threatened with negative consequences, such as demotion or firing, if they don’t comply with their harasser’s sexual demands. Quid pro quo harassment generally involves clear power dynamics, and is direct and explicit, so it’s usually easily recognized.

A hostile work environment, in comparison, does not have to be deliberately created for it to be actionable. Just having a “party culture” in the workplace that encourages an atmosphere where sexual innuendo freely flies can create an intimidating and oppressive work environment that is ultimately abusive. Conduct that can lead to a hostile work environment can include inappropriate jokes, offensive comments, derogatory remarks about a worker’s body or sex life and other unwelcome conduct that ultimately interferes with the victim’s ability to work. It can be harder for victims to recognize that they’re experiencing this form of sexual harassment, especially if they’re being told they need to “play along” or “lighten up” to fit in.

It’s important to note that employers have a legal obligation to take prompt and appropriate action to remedy the problem. When they don’t, victims have the right to fight back through legal means.