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Why quid pro quo harassment is hard to handle

On Behalf of | Aug 2, 2022 | Employment Law

A worker complaint about sexual harassment at your business might involve allegations of a hostile work environment. They might claim that coworkers make tasteless jokes at their expense or make them feel very uncomfortable.

Such issues often involve multiple people and therefore have numerous witnesses that can corroborate what happened. The company may need to provide training opportunities and discipline to correct the issue, but it can easily investigate and take action following a complaint.

Allegations of quid pro quo harassment can be harder for a company to handle. What makes claims of quid pro quo harassment more of a challenge for human resources or management to address?

There may not be any witnesses

Quid pro quo harassment involves one person offering something to another with a request for unprofessional considerations in return. Someone in a position of authority abuses their role to pressure, solicit or coerce another worker.

For example, a boss may tell a worker scheduled for an annual cost-of-living raise review that if they want the maximum amount possible, they have to agree to go on a date. Other times, those in a position of authority may leverage their professional status to coerce someone else into romantic or sexual activity that they would not consent to otherwise with threats of disciplinary action.

Unfortunately, most quid pro quo harassment occurs behind closed doors and will usually happen face-to-face, making it very difficult to prove.

The person accused may play a major role in the company

In both cases where someone abuses their authority and where workers make false claims in hopes of driving career benefits, the alleged harasser is likely someone who plays a key role at the company. Whether it is the manager overseeing the entire sales department or an executive, investigating and reprimanding that individual will be a challenge.

However, the alternative is a failure to investigate or take any steps to protect the worker who made the claim. Such failings might give that worker grounds to bring a lawsuit against the company because it permitted the sexual harassment and failed to take appropriate actions when notified of what had happened.

Understanding the unique challenges involved in quid pro quo sexual harassment claims can help employers protect themselves while also doing the right thing for their workers.