What most people may not realize about sexual harassment is that there are two different of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Read on to learn more about these categories of sexual harassment, what distinguishes one from the other, and what examples of both might look like.
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
The first category we’ll discuss is hostile work environment sexual harassment. You’ve probably heard of a hostile work environment before, but even this topic is often not as well understood as it should be. Put simply, a hostile work environment is one where the offensive environment is so bad that an employee’s work conditions are altered and the environment becomes hostile, intimidating, or abusive.
Because sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, the concept of a hostile work environment applies when one or more people is subjected to sexually discriminatory conduct. When this conduct rises to the level of being so severe and pervasive (a lower bar than perhaps it sounds), an employee can file a lawsuit claiming that the employer is responsible for putting up with conditions that led to the creation of the hostile work environment.
The following are examples of behavior that can create a hostile work environment:
- Unwanted physical touching of any kind
- Making comments about a person’s body or appearance
- Sending sexually explicit content in company emails or instant messages
- Making derogatory comments or “jokes” about a particular sex
- Displaying images or messages of a sexual nature around the office
- Making sexual advances
Anyone in a work environment can cause or contribute to the hostile work environment, including business owners, managers, and other employees at all levels of seniority. If an employee complains of a co-employee who is engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct, and the company fails to stop it or to respond at all, then the employee may have sufficient grounds to pursue legal action.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Unlike a hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment generally concerns someone in a position of authority over someone else. The superior can be a business owner, manager, or supervisor. Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a person in such a position propositioning a workplace incentive to an employee in exchange for a sexual favor or submission to sexual harassment.
Workplace incentives can include the following:
- Placement on a special project
- Protection during a layoff
- Protection from termination for otherwise valid reasons
When any of the incentives above or something like them is based upon the employee rendering a sexual favor, such as a sex act or submission to sexual harassment, then an unlawful quid pro quo has occurred. It doesn’t matter whether the exchange actually occurred – the fact that the offer was made is what matters most.
Did You Experience Sexual Harassment at Work?
If you are concerned that you have experienced sexual harassment at work, immediately consult with an employment law attorney to discuss your situation. At Bailess Smith PLLC, we offer everyone a free initial consultation to help them understand what their options could be for taking legal action.
When you meet with one of our attorneys, you can tell us about your concerns in strict confidentiality. If your claim sounds like something we can help you pursue, we’ll inform you of the ways in which Bailess Smith PLLC can help you proceed with legal action.
For more information or to scheduling your free initial consultation, call us at (304) 553-0337 or connect with us online.