Sexual harassment remains a constant threat to workers across America despite greater attention being given to the issue. Workers who are subjected to sexual harassment can face very real harm, too. Their sense of self-worth can be damaged, their reputation harmed, and oftentimes they face demotion or termination for either failing to comply with a harasser’s requests or reporting the harassment. As a result, victims of sexual harassment can face severe consequences when it comes to their careers, their finances, and their emotional wellbeing.
These outcomes are unacceptable. We know it can be tough for victims of sexual harassment to step out of the shadows to try to hold their harassers to account, especially when that harasser holds a powerful position. Oftentimes, victims are afraid that even if they succeed on a legal claim their harasser will continue to damage their reputations and careers in the long-term. While these fears are understandable, they shouldn’t paralyze a sexual harassment victim into inaction.
Instead, these victims have the ability to confidently stand up for what is right for them and others in the workplace. In order to do so, though, these victims need to understand the law and how to navigate it in an advantageous way. This week, let’s look at what is perhaps the most common type of sexual harassment: the quid pro quo.
There are two ways that quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs. They include the following:
- Job benefits are offered only in exchange for sexual favors. Here, someone in power, usually a supervisor or manager, approaches a worker and indicates that a promotion, raise, work assignment, additional hours, or some other perk can be given so long as a sexual favor is given. This may be a one-time incident or it may be ongoing.
- Negative employment actions are threatened if sexual favors are refused. Here, a supervisor or manager may threaten demotion or termination if sexual favors are not given. Again, this can be an isolated incident or there may be multiple approaches.
Proving quid pro quo sexual harassment can be challenging, but you might be able to shift the burden to your employer if you can prove that the employment action in question was taken due to a refusal to comply with a sexual request. At that point, your employer will be tasked with refuting your claim and as a result will have to prove that other legally permissible factors caused the employment decision in question.
What does this mean for you? It means that you need to be prepared to put forth evidence of the quid pro quo, which may include witness testimony, but it also means being prepared to defend yourself against various allegations. These allegations may include professional misconduct, excessive tardiness or absenteeism, or even discriminatory or harassing behaviors. Therefore, you need to take a holistic and aggressive approach to your case, even if you think your case will settle at the negotiation table.
It can be scary to take your sexual harassment case into the legal arena. You also might be afraid of your case boiling down into a he- said, she-said situation. You can help alleviate your concerns, though, by working with an attorney who is experienced with these kinds of cases. Hopefully with that assistance you can secure the outcome you deserve while shining a light in this all-important issue and thereby preventing others from being subjected to similar situations.