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What does sexual harassment in the workplace look like?

On Behalf of | Jun 3, 2023 | Employment Law

Sexual harassment is a persistent issue in businesses all across the United States, despite rising awareness of the issue. One of the reasons that it is so difficult to eradicate sexual harassment is that many people legitimately don’t know what constitutes sexual harassment and may downplay the experiences that they have had in the workplace as a result.

There are certainly extreme cases of harassment that may involve unwanted touching, actual sexual assaults and other severe consequences for the person targeted. However, many sexual harassment scenarios start subtly and worsen over time. Being able to recognize the two main forms of sexual harassment that occur can help a worker fight back as soon as they begin experiencing this kind of unlawful mistreatment.

Quid pro quo harassment

For most people, quid pro quo harassment is what they immediately think of when discussing sexual harassment. They picture a boss abusing their power to force someone to compromise their personal ethical standards. Offering someone a promotion for sexual favors or threatening a bad performance review if they don’t agree to go on a date because that shows they aren’t a team player are both examples of quid pro quo harassment.

A hostile work environment

People often have a harder time understanding what constitutes a hostile work environment as opposed to recognizing quid pro quo harassment from a direct supervisor. The people harassing a worker do not need to be of the opposite sex or to have any sense of sexual attraction to the victim.

A hostile work environment could involve socially excluding someone, making jokes at their expense and making them feel unsafe in the workplace because of their sex, appearance or personal sexual history.  A hostile work environment could involve multiple other workers and could be an indicator of a toxic culture and laissez-faire management at a company.

Employees who are experiencing either quid pro quo harassment or a hostile work environment should be able to count on their employers to take action. Those who do not receive proper protection from their employers sometimes have the right to pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit. As such, recognizing workplace sexual harassment is an important first step for those who may ultimately choose to fight back against the misconduct that they have experienced in the workplace.