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  • How to tell between quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment harassment

How to tell between quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment harassment

There are many forms of sexual harassment out there; some done right before one’s very eyes and some done so discreetly, the victim couldn’t even put a label on it. One thing is certain, though: the said harassment causes undue discomfort to the victim and ramps up hostility in the venue where it constantly takes place.

The workplace: breeding ground for sexual harassment

The workplace is a common location where incidents of sexual harassment often occur. In 2019 alone, charges of harassment of a sexual nature filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached more than 7,500, as stated in the said agency’s website. This does not include data from other agencies tackling fair employment practices.

In California, cases of this nature fall under the Fair Employment Practices Law. Originally crafted in 1945 to prohibit racial and religious discrimination, it is also applicable to sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Types of sexual harassment in the workplace

Under the said statute, two types of sexual harassment are identified: quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. All employees should be familiar with these two types so that in the event that they become victims of any kind of sexual misconduct in their place of work, they will better know how to navigate through the process of seeking justice.

It is also recommended that employers not only follow the guidelines but also educate themselves and their employees on the identification and prevention of these hostile practices.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment

Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning “this or that.” Taken literally, it means something that is given, taken, or done in exchange for something else.

Placed in the context of sexual harassment, quid pro quo occurs when a person in authority demands sexual favors from a subordinate in exchange for a “reward” in employment or “punishment” if the subordinate declines the demand. An example of this kind of harassment is a supervisor threatening an employee with demotion if the latter does not agree to a one-night stand.


The conditions below qualify an allegation as quid pro quo sexual harassment:

  • The victim is/was employed with or applied for a job in the company;
  • Unwanted sexual advances allegedly occurred in the work area or the victim was being considered for employment;
  • The perpetrator of the alleged harassment promises job benefits if the victim allows his sexual advances; or
  • Threatens economic injury if the victim rejects the perpetrator’s demand; and
  • The perpetrator, at the time of the assault, is/was higher in rank than the victim in the office hierarchy.

Employer’s liability

It doesn’t matter if the employer only knew about the incident after it was committed – they will become liable for whatever tangible employment action was done against the employee in quid pro quo harassment.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment

These are the fundamental differences between this particular type of sexual harassment in the workplace and quid pro quo:

  • Tangible employment action is committed in quid pro quo. This is not necessarily present in a hostile work environment.
  • In quid pro quo, sexual harassment is committed by a person in authority in the workplace. One doesn’t need to be in authority, nor should their actions or remarks always be sexual in nature to create a hostile work environment for the victim.

A hostile work environment is created by a fellow worker or a person in charge whose actions, statements, or behavior are so offensive and/or intimidating that it is impossible for the victim to function properly.

Note that mere irritating habits of a co-worker do not legally qualify as harassment even if these disrupt one’s ability to work productively. The offensive act must be discriminatory in nature and related to the victim’s sex, age, race, religion, or personality.

Further, the discriminating remarks or actions should have been frequently or at least repeatedly made. This, however, doesn’t count isolated incidents or petty annoyances.


Below are among the most common incidences of harassment that create a hostile workplace environment:

  • Repeatedly telling dirty jokes
  • Offensive remarks about sex, gender or disability
  • A superior who berates a subordinate’s age or religion
  • Unneeded touching
  • Work sabotage
  • Unwelcome discussion of sexual activity
  • Negative physical comments about a particular group

Employer’s liability in hostile work environment harassment

The employer is liable for a non-quid pro quo harassment if they were informed of the matter or should have known about it but didn’t do anything to remedy the situation.

Know your rights vs. sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace

Should you need a sexual harassment lawyer in San Diego who can provide you with what you need to know about the right to protect yourself from sexual harassment and discrimination in your place of work, then contact Hogue & Belong – one of the top sexual harassment lawyers in the Golden State.

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