Have you experienced quid pro quo sexual harassment at work?

Sometimes, sexual harassment can be coworkers or managers making jokes at your expense, using inappropriate language at work or touching you without your permission. All of these kinds of harassment -- and more --can create a very hostile work environment where you simply can't thrive as an employee.

There is another kind of harassment, however, that may happen off the clock, in personal conversations and without any witnesses. Called "quid pro quo" harassment, this form of employee mistreatment involves managers, bosses or business owners penalizing or rewarding workers for how they respond to harassment, sexual advances or flirting. It can and often does overlap with cases of hostile work environments.

Understanding quid pro quo harassment

The very phrase quid pro quo basically means "this for that." In other words, it implies an exchange of something valued for the benefit of both parties. In terms of workplace sexual harassment, one worker's performance, career trajectory or pay could all be used as leverage for quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Essentially, one person uses his or her authority as boss or manager to coerce or threaten someone else into sexual behavior. This could range from requesting specific sexual favors to encouraging someone to allow ongoing flirting and inappropriate touching in order to move forward in their career. No one should have to choose between their own bodily autonomy and their career.

It takes courage to come forward about sexual harassment

There is often a culture of victim blaming when someone speaks out about sexual harassment. Speaking up can also lead to issues at work, including legally prohibited reactions like loss of a job or demotions. Since this kind of behavior can do serious damage to a career path, it's no wonder that many victims choose not to speak up about their experiences.

If your employer attempts to solicit sexual favors from you by mentioning your upcoming performance review, chances are very good he or she will do the same thing to someone else. While it can be frightening to speak up about mistreatment, failing to do so may still damage your career and put others at risk as well.

Take steps to protect yourself and end the harassment

If possible, take steps to document how your employer has blurred the line between appropriate and inappropriate work relationships. Documentation and evidence make it easier to stand up for your rights when an employer violates them. Screenshots of flirtatious texts, printed copies of emails encouraging favors or even a journal outlining each event as it took place could help victims prove that they've experienced quid pro quo harassment.

If your employer has a procedure in place for sexual harassment, follow that and document each step you take. If the situation isn't quickly and thoroughly addressed, or if you face retaliation for coming forward, you may need to consider other legal options to protect your workplace rights.

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