Sexual harassment has become such a widely discussed topic that most people know it is illegal. However, many people struggle to succinctly explain what constitutes sexual harassment.
Employees deserve a workplace free of discrimination, which includes an environment without overt harassment. Workers who understand the two main forms of sexual harassment that occur in the workplace may be in a better position to assert themselves when a company fails to protect them or punishes them for speaking up.
Quid pro quo harassment
The definition of sexual harassment that most people know describes quid pro quo harassment. A manager or supervisor tries to convince someone to do something that makes them uncomfortable in return for overlooking an infraction or supporting them as they seek a promotion. Quid pro quo harassment involves trading some kind of job benefit for romantic or sexual favors. In most cases, quid pro quo harassment occurs between people with different levels of authority at a company.
A hostile work environment
Sexual harassment does not necessarily need to involve someone in a position of authority or people of opposite sexes. Harassment can also occur among teammates and people of the same sex. For example, workers may make jokes disparaging all women while in the presence of the only female employee on their team. Other times, a group of workers who belong to the same sex as the targeted employee may make jokes at someone’s expense and mistreat them. Simple workplace bullying does not constitute a hostile work environment. The abuse must reach a point where it impedes someone’s ability to do their job safely and effectively.
Companies should seek to protect workers from both quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environments. Disciplining those engaged in abusive behavior and offering training to counter an unhealthy culture in a particular department are both ways for organizations to appropriately respond to allegations of sexual harassment. Companies should investigate and take action against those behaving in an inappropriate manner, not against the person who reported the harassment.
Unfortunately, many workers who speak up about harassment end up facing job consequences for doing so. But, documenting sexual harassment and the attempt to address could help someone pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit if a business permits harassment or punishes someone for reporting it.