The most common sort of sexual harassment in the workplace is hostile work environment sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in a hostile work environment does not have to involve physical touching. Rather, it involves harassing behavior based on sex that makes the victim’s work environment harmful. Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of scenarios at work, including hostile work environments.
Learn more about what constitutes illegal hostile work environment sexual harassment.
What Is a Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment?
Hostile work environment Sexual harassment is any behavior directed at an employee because of their gender that interferes with their work performance or produces an intimidating, hostile, or unpleasant working environment. Sexual harassment examples include, but are not limited to:
- Unwanted sexual approaches or physical contact
- Gender humor
- Sexual/lewd jokes
- Inappropriate movements
- Sharing or showing sexually explicit content
- Offensive remarks concerning the appearance, body parts, and clothing
What Are the Different Kinds of Sexual Harassment?
In general, there are two types of sexual harassment:
- Sexual Harassment Quid Pro Quo
- Hostile Environment Sexual harassment
While both of these types of sexual harassment revolve around undesired and unwanted sexual behavior, there are a few key differences to be aware of.
#1. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo is a loose translation from Latin to English that means “this for that”. This is exactly what happens in quid pro quo sexual harassment instances. This “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality is usually only present when a supervisor is involved. In this case, the boss may request sexual favors in exchange for an employment benefit. For example, if a boss offers a raise in exchange for a kiss, this will be quid pro quo sexual harassment.
A supervisor is usually always implicated in quid pro quo cases because their authority allows them to distribute benefits without requiring consent. Among these advantages are:
- Increases in pay (raises)
- Positive performance evaluations
- Suggestions for advancing your career
- Work assignments that are better or easier
- Change the work schedule to a more advantageous or agreeable one.
Quid pro quo Sexual harassment isn’t only about sexual propositions. It could also come off as an aggressive and graphic description of sex acts or a criticism of an employee’s physique, appearance, or attire and what the aggressor wants to do with it.
Note that quid pro quo sexual harassment happens when there is a danger of negative work consequences for denying sexual advances. If the victim resists their superior’s sexual approaches, they may face the following consequences:
- Poor performance evaluations
- Job Loss Threats
- Changes that are less desirable
- Assignments that are unfavorable
Because of the seriousness of the harassment, even one instance of quid pro quo sexual harassment is illegal and usually grounds for a lawsuit. Furthermore, in quid pro quo sexual harassment actions, the employer, not simply the supervisor, is sometimes held accountable. This is due to the fact that supervisors serve as agents and a reflection of the company.
A Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Case
In an AT&T case, a former employee claimed that she was subjected to quid pro quo sexual harassment by a member of senior management. In one case, the boss informed the employee that he was unhappy with his sex life with his wife and that he had extramarital affairs on the side. Because AT&T was about to undergo a huge restructuring, he advised the employee that if she “played her cards right,” she could get the job she desired. Following this remark, he fingered her earring and told her that he could take over a coworker’s job and make them vanish.
When the employee refused these attempts, the management retaliated quickly by removing her responsibilities and leaving her with nothing to do at work. She repeatedly expressed her concerns to supervisors, but nothing was done. She went on disability leave shortly after that. When she returned, she was demoted, which resulted in her resignation. Following this, she filed a claim of quid pro quo sexual harassment. She won the lawsuit against her former employer based on the facts supplied and AT&T’s apathy.
How Is Sexual Harassment Distinct From Quid Pro Quo Harassment?
Quid pro quo implies “something in exchange for something”. When an employee is pressed to engage in sexual activities in exchange for a promotion, job retention, or some other form of employee perk, this is considered harassment. In other words, an employee’s job security could be contingent on performing sexual favors for his or her boss.
Hostile work environment harassment happens when an employee’s work environment is abusive or hostile as a result of his or her employer’s or coworker’s behavior or actions. Unlike quid pro quo sexual harassment, any employee can engage in the practice. Furthermore, the behavior may influence more than one employee.
Creating a Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim
If you believe you are a victim of hostile work environment sexual harassment or have witnessed it, gather the evidence before filing a claim. Sexual harassment claims in hostile work environments are more difficult to prove, so you should plan ahead of the environment. The following is a general list of steps you can take to file a claim:
#1. Confront the harasser with caution.
Notably, addressing the attacker is the first step you must do to get them to stop bothering you. While it’s unpleasant, it’s a vital step because they may not even realize they’re causing you mental discomfort. It could possibly be a single incidence with no ill intent.
If you don’t want to confront them or are concerned that they will hurt your well-being in any manner, contact human resources or a supervisor.
#2. Send a letter or note to the harasser.
You might also write a letter informing the harasser that their behavior is upsetting you and requesting that they cease. Make a copy of the letter and retain it in case you need to prove that you did all possible to stop the conduct in the future.
#3. Examine your company’s sexual harassment policy before filing a claim.
If the harassment persists after the warning, it is time to file a formal complaint with your workplace. To do so, review your company’s sexual harassment policy and procedures. The policy should provide a clear roadmap for reporting sexual harassment situations, such as what documentation to gather and who to contact.
Furthermore, the policy should detail the support and rights you have to seek treatment if you are in distress as a result of the incident.
#4. Seek assistance from human resources or a supervisor.
If your employer does not describe the method or does not have a sexual harassment policy in place, you can tell an HR representative or a supervisor and inquire about the protocol for reporting sexual harassment.
This may be unsettling, especially if your workplace’s work culture is hostile to sexual harassment allegations. It is vital, however unpleasant.
If it is proven that the company was not aware of the hostile work environment harassment, they may not be held accountable later on.
#5. Compile proof and documents
It’s also time to gather evidence to support your claim. Consider hiring a law firm or HR experts to assist you in determining what you need for your claim.
Detail everything you can remember about the situation, including:
- Who was in attendance, including the harassers and any witnesses?
- The date and timing of the harassment
- Harassment frequency
- Your interactions with the harasser, including what was said or done
Try to be as specific as possible, and acquire whatever more evidence you can. Take a snapshot of the offensive item if the harassment is in the form of notes, letters, or photographs, for example. Even better, keep it as evidence.
You can also write down how it influenced you, your work performance, and how you feel. If you see any consequences outside of work, don’t be hesitant to record them in your notebook as proof that the harassment has a long-term impact on your mental health.
Even if your organization does not have internal complaint procedures, you must notify them that this is occurring. If they disregard your complaints, continue up the command chain, documenting everything along the way.
#6. Obtain copies and backups of any relevant materials.
You should also seek a copy of your documents from HR in case you experience retaliation for speaking up. You can utilize previous data to demonstrate a sudden reassignment, negative performance reviews, or other changes in your working conditions.
If going to your employer does not assist, you can file a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which implements Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Train Your Employees to Recognize and Prevent Sexual Harassment
A sexual harassment complaint is one of the worst things that may happen in the workplace for victims. However, if you have been harassed, you do not have to keep a low profile and simply tolerate a hostile environment.
Employers should implement preventative measures to guarantee that unlawful workplace harassment does not occur.
Provide annual sexual harassment training to your workers, evaluate and update your sexual harassment policy, and consistently reinforce a zero-harassment position.
If an employee engages in inappropriate sexual behavior or makes unwelcome sexual approaches, undertake an immediate investigation and treat everyone involved with dignity. A sexual harassment case is hard to deal with, but comprehensive and consistent training can help decrease inadvertent cases and assist witnesses in identifying sexual harassment in the workplace.
Who Is Liable In Sexual Harassment Cases In a Hostile Work Environment?
The most difficult aspect of hostile work settings is determining who is responsible for the harm. Evidence should prove that the employer knew or reasonably could have known about the harassment and did nothing to stop it for an employer to be held accountable for this sort of sexual harassment between two same-level employees. However, if the harasser is a supervisor, the idea is null and void. The supervisor, much like a quid pro quo situation, works as an agent for the firm. So, as a result, the company is normally accountable by default.
However, the employer is not always to blame and cannot be held accountable. When an employer takes the required safeguards or steps after the fact to prevent recurrent incidents of sexual harassment, the employer has a solid defense.
Because liability in a sexual harassment action is frequently expensive, many industry experts think that a proactive response to this type of sexual harassment is helpful and, to some extent, required. Employers can hope to eliminate, prevent, or (at the very least) lessen the likelihood of hostile work environment sexual harassment by enforcing a sexual harassment policy or outlining one in an employee handbook, providing training to employees, and maintaining adherence and awareness of the policy.
Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment in a Legal Setting
If an employer fails to prevent or reduce sexual harassment in the workplace, victims can take their case to court. The court considers all factors to determine whether the individual instance is severe enough to result in an unlawfully hostile work environment. Courts will consider the following circumstances:
- Create an abusive work environment if the harassing behavior was severe enough.
- The conduct’s frequency
- If the behavior impairs work performance
- If the alleged harassment is frightening, menacing, or humiliating, or if it is simply an overreaction or a single incident
Courts frequently analyze the behavior of a reasonable person with the same qualities as the victim to determine the offensiveness or level of severity of the sexual harassment (the plaintiff). This involves a thorough assessment of workplace social behavior as well as the background of the aforementioned instances. This is an important distinction because most courts will only award damages for hostile work environment sexual harassment if the plaintiff can show that the employer did not make a reasonable attempt to cease the harassment or acted recklessly.
If the court judges in the victim’s favor, they may be entitled to a variety of damages. Punitive and compensatory damages may be awarded. Punitive damages are a type of punishment meted out to the employer. Compensatory damages, often known as front pay, cover other components such as back pay, pain and suffering, medical expenditures, or future economic loss.