Updated on April 19th, 2023

12 Tips to Protect Women Against Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Most forms of sexual harassment are not about sexual conquest. Instead, they are about aggressors seeking or maintaining power over their victims. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is no different since it usually consists of concealed, illegal behavior that cannot be tolerated. Quid pro quo sexual harassment may expose an employer to millions of dollars from an employee’s lawsuit.

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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1) What does quid pro quo sexual harassment mean literally?

The words “quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that has been appropriated into our English vernacular. The words “quid pro quo” literally means an exchange of goods, the transfer of which is dependent on each other e.g., sexual favors in exchange for promotion. Sexual harassment in this format happens when an authority figure, such as a boss, manager, or supervisor, attempts to wield power over a subordinate. For example, a supervisor might offer that the employee will be given a promotion, raise, bonus, or something similar, in exchange for sexual favors, attention, or behaviors. It is obvious that this behavior, like all other forms of sexual harassment, is as much as it is about the sexual acts as it is about the power dynamic.

Another common form of this type of harassment occurs when a supervisor threatens a worker with a negative consequence, such as being fired or penalized if they will not engage in sexual acts. Many people who apply for jobs have experienced another variation of this harassment and complain that the hiring process was based upon the rejection of or acceptance of sexual advances and behavior.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment is prohibited under US federal law as well as state law, but it is still, unfortunately, a common occurrence. An attorney who deals with quid pro quo in sexual harassment is often able to work quickly to help those in need.

2) Quid Pro Quo: Specific Meaning

In the Latin language, quid pro quo is roughly translated as “this for that.” Quid pro quo, then, implies an advantage, perk, or favor being given to someone, with something else expected in exchange. For example, if an employee is asked to submit to what is an unwelcome and inappropriate sexual act or advance, and this is linked to a specific job benefit, then quid pro quo has occurred. This harassment can take all forms. It can be verbal, physical, or written. An employer who is engaging in this behavior might offer opportunities for advancement such as a new position, better benefits, higher performance expectations, improved pay, different work assignments, a new title, and more.

This type of exchange is illegal, and it does not matter if the harassment is acted out or simply implied. As times change, there are many more forms of this harassment, including expressions of it that play out online, via email, social media, and other channels.

In California, quid pro quo sexual harassment is one of two significant expressions that the state includes in its legal definition of sexual harassment, the other being hostile work environment harassment.

3) What is An Example of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

When quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs, a supervisor, manager, boss, CEO, or anyone in power asks an employee for sexual contact, favors, or sex. This can also be asked of a prospective employee, and it does not necessarily have to be said outright. This type of behavior is easy to conceal, and it can be hidden underneath gestures, metaphors, jokes, and other subtle behaviors.

This specific type of sexual harassment is predicated on the fact that the person demanding the sexual favors in question rests in a position of power. Therefore, the employee is pressured and sometimes expected to provide the requested “favor” as a condition of employment. Sometimes, the pressure involves threats, such as telling the employee they will be fired or that the news of the sexual behavior will be shared with others, regardless of whether it happened or not. Sometimes, this pressure can involve false promises and bribery, such as a promise to hire, promote, or provide a raise to the employee if they cooperate.

4. Acts and Offenses That Do Not Imply Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment that is described as quid pro quo is quite common, but not every offensive action or situation can be labeled in this way. Whether an office, a factory, or a retail store, workplaces are generally made up of a combination of very different individuals who are under a good deal of tension. Based on this, many complex social situations occur daily, and this can contribute to confusion among employees regarding the nature of this sort of sexual harassment. Sometimes, situations that are at first deemed sexual harassment are a different thing entirely. While all sexual harassment is wrong, this article is about a specific form of this behavior. Here are a few behavioral examples that do not constitute harassment of a quid pro quo nature:

  • An instance of harassment that does not include an exchange or a “quid pro quo.”
  • An exchange of goods or something else in the form of bargaining/negotiating, but that does not include any sexualized behavior.
  • Relationships among employees that are consensual in nature, especially if the employees have no control over employment decisions.
  • Consensual relationships between employees and their supervisors. These should have zero to do with work performance or employment.

If sexual harassment has occurred, a skilled attorney at Nakase Wade can help. We provide free consultations and will quickly let individuals know if they should file a lawsuit against their employer for sexual harassment.

5) Taking Advantage of the Workplace Power Dynamic

The discrepancy in power at the workplace makes this type of harassment all too common. In 2019, 38% of women and 14% of men reported being sexually harassed at work, but common knowledge is that most victims do not report being harassed many times for fear of losing their jobs. This goes back to the power dynamic. When someone has a significant sense of authority, they can influence others and use it to their advantage in an abusive way.

If an employee outwardly rejects the offer, they can face negative consequences, and they can also fear being singled out and ostracized. This is because the harasser has authority over not only the victim but often the entire office or workplace. Because of this, quid pro quo sexual harassment rarely occurs between two co-workers who have equal status and/or workers who have little authority or do not make decisions.

When the person committing the offense is a supervisor and found guilty, their entire agency can sometimes be held liable. Agency law tells us that if a supervisor behaves this way, the employer of the supervisor can also face charges because they have power over the supervisor. Therefore, all the way up the chain of command, there has to be a level of trust and decency, or else one terrible act by one person in power can bring down an entire company.

One of the reasons that many victims do not report the quid pro quo sexual behavior and harassment that has occurred is that it needs to be done quickly. Often victims are dealing with complex emotions such as shame, shock, and embarrassment, and they are also nervous about becoming involved in a dispute against a powerful person and/or entity. Those who are wrongfully targeted need to file their complaints with a California and/or federal labor protection agency, and they only have 180 days to file with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This can be a good time to contact a licensed attorney to weigh your options and consult about what the next steps are. If you are a victim of sexual harassment of a sexual nature that involves quid pro quo, Nakase Wade can help you.

6) Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment vs Hostile Work Environment

Although a hostile work environment can be difficult to deal with, quid pro quo sexual harassment is an entirely different thing. Any type of sexual harassment can indeed create a hostile and unwelcome work environment, but quid pro quo harassment is a very specific type of offense, as it requires employee benefits to hang in the balance and is often linked to the threat or promise of specific actions or deeds by the superior/employer.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment can exist at any company level, from the top offices to the lower ranks. While it can occur between two people who hold the same position, it usually occurs between a supervisor or manager and someone who works under them. The resulting power dynamic can create an unsafe and hostile environment not only for the person or persons being unfairly targeted but also for other employees. All sexual harassment can adversely impact the entire climate of the office or workplace, leaving employees wondering if working there is even worth the time and aggravation.

7. A Hostile Work Environment vs. Quid Pro Quo: An Important Distinction

Usually, a negative working environment occurs when an individual’s behavior in the workplace makes it uncomfortable for others. Discrimination in some form is usually the cause of this, and often that discrimination has sexual undertones or brings with it unwanted advances of a sexual nature. Conduct such as sexual requests can be damaging to the workplace and, even worse, to employees’ self-worth, well-being, confidence, and overall happiness and productivity.

Included in these behaviors are:

  • Showing someone offensive images/materials
  • Persistent affection that is unwanted. Persistent attention is paid to one person that is unasked for.
  • Jokes of a sexual nature.

When these behaviors are unwarranted and occur frequently, a hostile or negative work environment is created. Sometimes, this consistent behavior is confused with actions or verbal interactions that only happened once. If an employee makes an attempt at an intimate relationship but gives up after one attempt, this may not constitute a hostile work environment. However, when negative and inappropriate behaviors are perpetuated repeatedly, the work environment has probably become poisoned.

8) Who is liable for Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment? Holding Employers Liable

It is essential for employers to know that they can be found liable for perpetuating offensive behavior or doing nothing to stop it. Quid pro quo sexual harassment impacts everyone, and even if the actions occur between two employees and do not involve the employer him/herself, the employer can still be found liable.

In this case, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove that the employer was aware of the situation that involved harassment. It also has to be proven that the employer did not take the necessary actions to prevent or halt the negative behavior. On the other hand, if it is shown that the employer took the correct steps to attempt to remedy or stop the situation from occurring after being notified, they might have an acceptable defense.

In most cases, an employer can be found liable by default in the case that the person who committed the harassment is the supervisor. These legal issues can be complex, and the goal is to stop the quid pro quo sexual harassment immediately and find out how and why it occurred and who was aware of it. At the center of this, the person who feels they have been wrongly harassed, blamed, and treated poorly and unfairly at their place of work should find some legal protection. Since each case of quid pro quo sexual harassment is different, we suggest speaking with a licensed attorney.

9) Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

After sexual harassment occurs, plaintiffs are able to recover damages that are compensatory in nature. These may include employment opportunities that were lost, as well as benefits and wages. Often in sexual harassment cases, victims sue for the emotional distress that has been caused. Many victims also pursue legal action in hopes of getting their jobs back if they were lost in the process. When this type of sexual harassment involves offenses that are particularly appalling and offensive, punitive damages may be sought and awarded. This is in part to discourage defendants from committing sexual harassment in the future and also to prevent employers and supervisors from turning a blind eye to future victims.

When employees of any business feel that they have been a victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment, they need to file their formal complaints with a federal labor protection agency, or with the state, within 180 days. They can also file with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

10) The Risk of Reporting Sexual Harassment: Retaliation

It is a lawfully protected activity to stand up for yourself if you feel you or someone else has been sexually harassed. All places of work should be free of sexual harassment. It is therefore illegal for your supervisor or employer to take retaliatory actions against you just for reporting a case of sexual harassment. Here are some things that are well within your rights that individuals should feel comfortable doing.

  • Act to defend a fellow employee or another individual from the dangers of sexual harassment.
  • Reject advances that are sexual in nature.
  • Talk to anyone in the office, including a supervisor, employer, or CEO, about issues and concerns regarding sexual harassment.
  • Talk to people who work outside of your place of employment about any and all sexual harassment issues.
  • Answer questions truthfully during an investigation.
  • File complaints about sexual harassment in any form, committed by anyone, whether the individual or someone else is the target.
  • Become a witness in a lawsuit or investigation by the authorities.

When an employee revolts against the evils of sexual harassment in the workplace, this becomes a legally protected action. All people should be guaranteed the right to work in an office that is free of sexual harassment, whether it is quid pro quo or otherwise.

Likewise, it is not lawful or fair to the individual for the employer to retaliate against them for reporting that sexual harassment has occurred. Reporting that these actions have occurred is a right that all employees should be able to claim freely.

After filing a claim, legal protections are provided to the impacted individual. While it is the right course of action to report any and all sexual harassment to the authorities, many employers still engage in retaliatory actions. The risks are obvious: individuals can be disciplined and even fired. However, actions such as this generally show that the supervisor or employer is culpable and further strengthen the case of the employee.

It is important for individuals who feel they have been wronged in this manner to contact a licensed attorney. For example, an employee who is suddenly laid off with a strong record of work and employment may be eligible to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. In general, it is important for individuals to know that if they report that sexual harassment has occurred and their employer retaliates based on this, then the employer can and should be found liable.

11) If I Report Sexual Harassment, Do I Need to Worry About Getting Fired?

This point is essential for employees and their employers to understand. After a sexual harassment claim is initiated and properly filed, the individuals who have filed the claim are protected by law. This means that if there is any retaliation among the accused parties, the employer can be found liable for those actions.

Generally, if an employee can show that sexual harassment by a superior has occurred and created damages or provoked the existence of a hostile work environment, the employee should file a lawsuit—and they should win. Even if there exists no denial of employment opportunities and no loss of benefits or pay, employers can still be held responsible. Also, the plaintiff may still be able to obtain compensable damages. Additionally, the plaintiff’s attorney does not necessarily have to show negligence by the employer or find the existence of direct offenses on the company’s/employer’s behalf.

12) How to Prove Quid Pro Quo Harassment Has Occurred

To show that quid pro quo sexual harassment has occurred, the employee (also known in this case as the claimant/plaintiff) has to be able to show a jury that:

  1. The harasser’s behavior was a significant factor in causing harm to the plaintiff.
  2. The claimant was harmed in some way.
  3. That specific job benefits were based (verbally or by action) on the employee/claimant’s acceptance of the alleged harasser’s sexual conduct/behavior; or that work/job decisions impacting the plaintiff were made based on his/her rejection or acceptance of the alleged conduct.
  4. At the time of the alleged behavior, the alleged harasser worked for company X.
  5. That the alleged harasser made unwarranted sexual advances toward the plaintiff or other unaccepted physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature.
  6. That the plaintiff/claimant was indeed an employee of the company of the defendant or was applying for said job.

Technically, the US courts are trying to find proof that the harassment created a significant employment issue, such as a firing or unfounded lack of advancement/promotion. It is important to note that the employee can and should file a sexual harassment claim even if he/she did ultimately submit to the employer’s lewd request for quid pro quo.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: Contact a Skilled Attorney

We hope this has helped clarify some important and common questions regarding sexual harassment of the quid pro quo variety. At Nakase Law Firm, we are experts at litigation and knowledgeable about sexual harassment in its various forms. If you would like to speak with a lawyer, please call us for a free consultation.

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What Is A Hostile Work Environment?

The law defines an unlawful hostile work environment to mean when a superior or coworker communication or behavior that is offensive, intimating, or discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, etc.

Can you take unpaid time off in California?

There is no legal requirement in California that an employer provide its employees with either paid or unpaid vacation time. However, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year.

DFEH Right to Sue

To file a lawsuit for discrimination, you must file a complaint with DFEH and obtain a Right-to-Sue notice.

Is It Illegal To Not Pay Overtime?

Yes, it is illegal for employer to not pay overtime because California law requires that employers pay overtime, whether authorized or not.

What Is Rate Pay Meaning?

The meaning of pay rate is the average hourly rate an employee is paid calculated by dividing the total pay for employment in a work week by the total number of hours actually worked.

California Break Laws

Under California law, non-exempt workers are entitled to two paid 10-minute rest breaks and one unpaid meal break during their eight-hour shift. 

Not Getting Paid for Work I Have Done

Workers who have not been paid for work have the right to file a claim with the federal and state Department of Labor for unpaid wages.

California Overtime Law

Under California overtime law, an employee who works over eight hours a day or over forty hours per week is entitled to overtime pay at one and one-half times the regular rate of pay.

Who is exempt from overtime pay?

As of 2023, to be exempt from overtime pay, any employees who are paid at least $62,400 per year and work are primarily professional, executive, creative, managerial, or intellectual and require the exercise of independent judgment.

Can Previous Employers Talk Bad About You?

There are no state or federal laws prohibiting what a previous employer can or cannot say about a former employee. However, previous employers are not permitted to make up lies to damage your reputation and make it difficult for you to get another job.

Can An Employer Cut Your Pay as Punishment?

Employers cannot cut hours to retaliate against employees. Cutting the hours of an employee should never be used as discipline or in an attempt to make an employee quit. 

California Random Drug Testing Law

Random drug testing is not permitted in California, and employers must give their employees notice before a drug test is given.

What happens if you get caught working under the table?

Generally, it is not illegal for your employer to pay you in cash. However, if the employer paid you under the table and did not report your earnings, you may be entitled to money damages under California Labor Code 226.

ADA Proof of Disability

An employer has no right to ask an employee to provide proof of disability unless the employee requests a reasonable accommodation and the employer does not believe disability exists.

FMLA Retaliation and Wrongful Discharge

An employer is prohibited from retaliating, interfering with, restraining, or denying an employee’s exercise of any FMLA right. If an employer wrongfully terminates an employee for FLMA taking medical leave, the worker could have a lawsuit against the employer.

Per Diem Employee Rights

A per diem employee is a worker who work on an as needed basis. A per diem employee does not have a regular schedule or shift but instead works hours as assigned.

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