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What exactly is quid pro quo harassment in the workplace?

On Behalf of | Aug 5, 2016 | Sexual Harassment At Work

In all employment situations, employees are expected to perform some type of work in exchange for their paycheck and various company benefits. It is a sort of trade agreement. The employee gets “something for something-which happens to be the Latin translation for Quid Pro Quo.

However, in the workplace, the term “quid pro quo” is normally used to describe a type of sexual harassment in the workplace, when something more than a person’s regular job duties are being solicited in order for that employee to be hired or given a career advancement.

This type of behavior not only creates a hostile work environment that can be financially, emotionally and physically harmful-it is also downright illegal.

But the law requires several conditions before an individual can seek legal recourse.


The following is a list of conditions that must be present in order for the court to consider a claim for sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • They need to be an applicant for a job at a company or an existing employee
  • The person accused of harassment must have been an employee, agent or officer of the company at the time of alleged misconduct and held a supervisory position or other position of power
  • The alleged harasser made unwanted sexual advances, including verbal suggestions or physical conduct toward the plaintiff
  • The alleged harasser must have stated or implied that certain job benefits would be dependent on the plaintiff’s cooperation with the harasser’s suggestions, or that employment decisions were to be made based on their compliance
  • The plaintiff experienced harm due to their harassment experience


Quid pro quo violations are sometimes very direct, and involve an outright suggestion that the employee or applicant perform sexual favors to get a job or make advances in their career.

Other times, the suggestions may be more subtle. A hiring manager may say something like, “”I could really use a pretty face like yours on my team. It would do great for morale, and I’d love the chance to get to know you better…”

This might happen after an employee has already experienced hostility in the workplace due to his or her supervisor’s sexual or unwanted advancements or uncomfortable conversations with the employee.

Compensation for quid pro quo cases

While there are occasional instances when a plaintiff may receive punitive damages-awards intended to deter future wrongdoing by the defendant-most awards are made based on compensatory damages that would allow the plaintiff to recover for lost wages and benefits, employment opportunities, and emotional distress. In some cases the employee may receive job reinstatement.

Limited time to file a claim

Individuals who feel they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace-in any form-making note of the incident(s) and reporting the inappropriate behavior as soon as possible is very important.

In order for a lawsuit to be considered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission it must be filed within 180 days of the first incident.

An employment rights lawyer can help with the process and explain the law in greater detail.