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What is quid pro quo harassment? How can employees protect their rights?

In the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of people coming forward about being sexually harassed at work. Many outspoken victims have been in the entertainment and media industries. However, sexual harassment at work can happen in any industry, whether you work as a server in a night club, a receptionist in an office, or an executive at a large corporation.

Most employees know the basics about what constitutes sexual harassment at work. However, these issues can be complex in a legal sense, particularly because sexual harassment claims require evidence, and there are specific procedures for bringing a claim.

Understanding quid pro quo harassment and its implications

Quid pro quo is an insidious form of sexual harassment. It literally means "this for that." Here's an example of quid pro quo: a supervisor promises a promotion or raise in exchange for a sexual favor.

This kind of sexual harassment may seem uncommon, but according to a national survey, around 13 percent of women and 5 percent of men have reported experiencing quid pro quo harassment in the workplace.

Sometimes the legal issues around this kind of harassment can seem murky because harassers know how to give themselves plausible deniability. They may pose a sexual offer hypothetically, so they can say they were not serious. Or, they may tell the other party that what they're doing isn't illegal. Workers don't know if the experience was serious enough to warrant reporting, or if it really is illegal, and many people decide not to say anything at all.

But make no mistake: quid pro quo harassment is illegal, and it should be reported, regardless of what harassers want victims to believe. If you have been harassed in this way, there are two very important things you can do to protect your rights going forward:

1. You need to report the incident to human resources or another appropriate party.

It's important that you report the harassment in a written complaint -- to create a record of the incident (or incidents). If your employer does not have a Human Resources department, you should report to your supervisor. If your company does not do anything to make the situation right, you should consider the next step.

2. You can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as with the corresponding agency of the state where the harassment occurred.

For instance, if you live in New Jersey and work in New York, you would file in New York because that is where the agency has jurisdiction.

After filing a complaint, the EEOC will review your complaint, investigate and decide whether to pursue action against the employer. It is also important to have an employment law attorney on your side throughout the legal process. Whether you simply report to human resources or end up filing an official complaint, by speaking up, you are taking the first step to protecting your own rights and the rights of others who have been victims of sexual harassment.

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