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What Are the Two Types of Sexual Harassment?



The two types of sexual harassment are “quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment”. 

Sexual harassment can be defined as unwelcome sexual contacts or sexually-oriented comments. Sexual harassment in the workplace can exist between the same or opposite gender or between any job descriptions; they don’t both have to be employees.

Within that definition, there are two recognized types of sexual harassment in the workplace, and both pertain to male and female victims and male and female instigators.

“Quid Pro Quo”

The Latin phrase means, “Something for something, something given or received for something else.” A contemporary English equivalent phrase might be, “You scratch my back. I’ll scratch yours.”

An example of quid pro quo harassment might be of an employee-male or female-approaching a co-worker-male or female-and offering “an enhanced working relationship,” wherein the employee receives sexual favors for preferential treatment or even money. The opposite may be true, as well. The initiator may be a subordinate and repeatedly approach a supervisor, offering sexual favors for better working conditions or a promotion.

Quid pro quo harassment can exist across genders or of the same genders; peers or subordinates and supervisors, or other workplace relationships. The relationship does not have to be direct or of a supervisory nature. Those involved do not have to be in the same supervisory chain. The only two conditions that must exist are the “something for something” condition and that it pivots around the workplace.

So long as there is a trade situation within the harassment scenario, quid pro quo harassment exists.

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment exists when sexual advances, contact, or suggestions, whether verbal or physical, create extremely intimidating or threatening work environments. The conditions effect work performance, morale, attendance, or continued employment. The harassment affects the victim so pervasively that he or she can no longer productively contribute on the job.

The harasser in a hostile work environment could be of either gender, in a supervisory position, a peer, or a contractor. There is no job description or specific relationship required in a hostile work environment-just that it exist in or pertaining to the work environment and grossly affects the victim’s ability to perform job-related tasks.

For instance, a female employee might harass a co-worker by constantly making derogatory comments regarding a female co-worker. The comments belittle the other and attempt to lower self-esteem. The comments could range from appearance to work performance to alleged sexual proclivities. The environment could become so uncomfortable for the victim that she cannot adequately perform her assigned duties, which increases workplace stress. The situation might escalate to the point where the victim becomes hostile in return, quits, or is fired for performance issues.

Expert Opinion

Quote:   “To be able to raise a defense or avoid punitive damages in sexual harassment lawsuits, employers need to show that they have provided periodic sexual harassment training to all employees.”

Source:   Max Mueller The Manager’s Guide to HR AMACOM

Quote:  “Unfortunately liability might even arise if you have been careful not to unduly control a contractor or temp to the point of making him or her a co-employee.”

Source:  Gavin S. Appleby Harassment and Discrimination: And Other Workplace Landmines

Entrepreneur Press Legal Guide Services



Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub. L. 88-352) (Title VII)

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; “Facts about Sexual Harassment,” found at

CWL Publishing Enterprises, Inc.; “Harassment and Discrimination: And Other Workplace Landmines,” ©2008 Entrepreneur Press Legal Guide Services; by Gavin Appleby.

Merriam-Webster, Inc.; “The Merriam-Webster Dictionary,” ©2004.

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