Workplace sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. There are two types of workplace harassment. One is called hostile work environment harassment. In this type of harassment, a victim is subject to unwelcome gender-based jokes, slurs, ridicule, epithets or name calling.

Another kind of harassment is called quid pro quo sexual harassment, where job decisions are conditioned upon submission to sexual favors or demands. In each type of case, the employer is liable for harassment by a supervisor. An employer may be liable for harassment by supervisors, co-employees and non-employees.

What is Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

Quid pro quo harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Quid pro quo harassment is illegal under federal law. Quid pro quo harassment is illegal under many states’ laws. Quid pro quo harassment takes place when job benefits, conditions, and terms are made contingent to an employee’s submission to an employer’s sexual demands.

When an employer or supervisor holds benefits of employment such as promotions and salary increases subject to an employee’s providing sexual favors, quid pro quo harassment occurs.

Quid pro quo harassment also takes place when the rejection of the demand or request for sexual favors causes a tangible (substantial) loss of an employment benefit. Such losses include losses of bonuses, and also include suspensions, demotions, and termination.

Is an Employer Liable for Quid Pro Quo Harassment?

Employers whose managers, supervisors, and agents commit quid pro quo harassment are held liable for those individuals’ acts of harassment when the harassment is accompanied by a tangible, detrimental job action, such as a demotion or pay cut.

If the manager’s or supervisor’s request is refused, and no detrimental job action is taken, the employer may escape liability. The employer may do so by showing it had a sexual harassment complaint procedure, which the employee did not follow.

What Constitutes Hostile Work Environment Harassment?

Hostile work environment harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination. Hostile work environment harassment consists of unwelcome conduct that is sexual in nature. Such harassment is directed at an individual because of their gender.

The conduct can be verbal, in the form of sexually explicit remarks, innuendo, or lewd comments. The conduct can be visual, in the forms of office posters, photographs, emails, or screensavers. The conduct can be physical, in the form of obscene gestures, or unwelcome following of an employee by the harasser.

To qualify as hostile work environment harassment, the harassment must be severe or pervasive. Severe or pervasive conduct means conduct that, taken as a whole, alters the terms and conditions of.employment and creates a hostile or abusive work environment.

Employers whose managers, supervisors, and agents who commit hostile work environment harassment are liable for this harassment if the harassment is accompanied by an adverse job action, such as a firing or a pay decrease.

When harassment is not accompanied by an adverse job action, an employer may prove they are not liable. To do this, the employer must show they had measures to correct and prevent sexual harassment, and that the employee did not use these measures.

Can Employers Be Liable for Harassment by Third Parties? 

A non-employee can commit sexual harassment by subjecting a victim to the same unwanted conduct that constitutes hostile work environment harassment. Under certain conditions, employers can be held liable for harassment committed by a non-employee. Non-employees include, for example, customers and guests.

For an employer to be held liable for the harassment by the non-employee, the employer, its managers or supervisors knew or should have known about the harassment. The employer must fail to take immediate corrective action.

An employer can be held liable, for example, if a manager fails to investigate complaints of harassment by the non-party employee. An employer can be held liable if the employer fails to inform the employer of the non-employee of the harassment.

To demonstrate sexual harassment by a non-employee third party, a plaintiff must show that the employer knew or should have reasonably known of the harassment; the employee put the employer on sufficient notice that the conduct was unwelcome, and that the employer failed to take appropriate action. Appropriate action may consist of informing the employer of the non-employee of the harassment; ensuring the third party is not permitted to work near or around the employee; or instructing the third party to stop the harassment.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer with a Sexual Harassment Claim?

If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment, you should contact an harassment lawyers. An experienced employment attorney near you can review the facts of your case. The lawyer can advise you on options and to your rights and options. The lawyer can represent you in legal proceedings, including at hearings and in court.