While they are at work, employees should be able to perform their job duties in a healthy work environment. Some employees, however, may suffer from a hostile work environment, which severely impacts their ability to perform their job duties.
Hostile work environments are created when individuals in the workplace engage in harassment which makes it impossible for an employee to properly perform their job duties. This type of harassment often includes unwelcome comments or conduct which unreasonably interferes with the employee’s work performance. It may be based on:
- Sex, including pregnancy;
- National origin;
- Age, if they are 40 or older;
- Genetic information; or
- Any other legally protected characteristic.
A hostile work environment can be created by many different individuals in the employment setting, including:
- Supervisors or managers;
- Repeat clients;
- Contractors; and
- Other employment staff which have significant contact with the employee.
It is important to be aware that not every annoyance, petty slight, or isolated incident will cause the work environment to rise to the level where it is illegal. If, however, an employee is in a situation where they have been subjected to unwelcome and offensive conduct which has affected the terms and conditions of their employment, they may be able to sue their employee for a hostile work environment based on harassment.
What is a Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Claim?
Quid pro quo is a Latin term which means, “something for something.” This phrase has a long history in the legal field as well as in various other fields.
In modern terminology, the phrase refers to giving one valuable thing for another valuable thing. The implications of the phrase will vary depending upon the legal situation in which it is being used.
For example, in the realm of contract law, this phrase refers to the exchange of mutual consideration between the parties. In employment law, the phrase is used to refer to unlawful sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace.
If an employee suffers this type of harassment at work, they may be able to pursue legal action against their employer.
What is Sexual Harassment?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the government agency which governs workplace harassment on the federal level. The main role of the EEOC is to enforce the numerous federal workplace anti-discriminatory laws as well as provide a safe place for an employee to report illegal harassment.
Sexual harassment is divided into two categories by the EEOC, including hostile work environment and quid pro quo harassment. Hostile work environment harassment occurs when an employee makes unwelcome sexual advances or behaviors towards a coworker and those actions create and uncomfortable and offensive atmosphere.
It is not required for the individuals to have different levels of power in the workplace, such as a manager or supervisor and an employee dynamic in order for this type of harassment to occur. The second category of sexual harassment is quid pro quo.
Quid pro quo harassment refers to differences in position between a harasser and their victim, such as a supervisor or a manager. This occurs when the supervisor or manager promises an employee a benefit in exchange for a sexual favor or when a supervisor or manager agrees to refrain from a negative action in exchange for the sexual favor.
If a supervisor or manager threatens an employee to withhold a job benefit and/or threatens an adverse action if the sexual favor is not performed, then they have committed quid pro quo sexual harassment.
What are the Requirements for a Quid Pro Quo Harassment Claim?
Similar to other types of legal claims, a plaintiff is required to satisfy certain elements in order to prevail in a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, including:
- Employment by the defendant;
- A supervisor or manager makes unwanted sexual advances towards the employee, the plaintiff, or engages in other unwanted sexual conduct towards the employee;
- Job benefits become contingent on performing sexual favors for the supervisor or the supervisor threatens to take negative employment actions if the employee refuses to perform such favors; and
- The employee is harmed as a result.
In order to qualify as actionable sexual harassment, the employment injury or benefit must be significant, or material, as defined in the federal laws. For example, a minor inconvenience such as a small change in job tasks would not be material.
Common examples of adverse material actions may include:
- Pay cuts;
- Benefit denials;
- False and intentional negative statements regarding the employee’s reputation;
- Major changes in job tasks or work loads; and
Common examples of benefits may include:
- Promising bonuses;
- Raises; and
- Other preferential treatment contingent on the sexual favor.
What are the Reporting Procedures for Quid Pro Quo?
Most employers have an independent reporting system used to prevent, flag, and punish sexual harassment within their company. If an employee is harassed, their first step is to follow the reporting policy of the company, which is typically handled by the human resources department (HR).
The company will then typically perform an internal investigation regarding the claim and act appropriately if the claim is deemed credible. If a company does not take action, the employee’s next option is to file a complaint with the EEOC.
An employee has 180 days from the date the harassment occurs to file a claim. This may be extended to 300 days if the state in which the employee resides also has quid pro quo laws.
Each state has its own laws governing workplace protections and employee reporting, so it is important for an employee to consult with an attorney to determine the laws of their state. If the EEOC performs an investigation and finds that discrimination did, in fact, occur, they may file a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiff. If the investigation determines that no harassment occurred, the individual may be able to file a private lawsuit without the assistance of the EEOC.
What Damages Can a Quid Pro Quo Plaintiff Seek?
If an employee’s claim of sexual harassment is successful, they can seen monetary damages from their employer. They may be entitled to receive compensatory damages, which includes compensation for:
- Medical bills;
- Lost wages;
- Job search expenses; and
- Attorney’s fees.
Courts may also award damages for mental or physical suffering which was caused by the harassment as well as for back pay or denied benefits. If a plaintiff is filing a state claim, the categories for damages may differ slightly and some may have a cap on the amount the plaintiff may receive.
Because of these variations, an individual should consult with an attorney to determine what damages they may be eligible to receive. It is important to be aware that it is illegal for employers to terminate employees or to engage in other forms of retaliation against employees who file sexual harassment complaints. If this occurs, an employee may be awarded more damages.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Sexual Harassment Claim?
It is essential to have the assistance of a sexual harassment lawyers for any quid pro quo sexual harassment issues you may have. Although there are laws designed to protect employees from this type of harassment, it may seem like an uphill battle.
The thought of fighting against a company with vast resources may make you feel lonely and overwhelmed. Your attorney can advise you regarding the laws in your state, help you throughout the claim process, and represent you in court.