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Quid Pro Quo vs. Hostile Environment: Know the Difference

As the owner of a company, it is important to be aware of laws in the workplace, especially those having to do with sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be broken down into two distinct types: “Quid Pro Quo” and “Hostile Environment.”

It is crucial for everyone employed at the company to know the difference between these two and what constitutes sexual harassment or abuse, because it is illegal and can be the foundation for a lawsuit, as both are prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If your company has 50 or more employees, you are required by the state of California to arrange for and provide a minimum of two hours of classroom education and interactive training concerning sexual harassment to all supervisory employees who have been employed by your company since July 1, 2005. You are also required to provide this to all new supervisory employees within six months of them assuming a supervisory position. Furthermore, employers must provide a review of sexual harassment training and education to each supervisory employee once every two years.

Quid Pro Quo

This type of harassment occurs when an employment-related benefit is made contingent on sexual favors. This most commonly occurs between an individual who is in a position of power at the company (superior) and a subordinate. An employment-related benefit would include: complimentary performance reviews, promotions and raises. However, if the employee declines the sexual favor/advance from his/her superior there may be employment consequences, threats or retaliations. These would include: poor performance reviews, demotions, job termination and being given unfavorable work shifts. For example, if a manager offers a promotion to an employee only if he/she meets the manager’s sexual demands this would constitute for Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment. In this case, the employer can be found legally liable for the actions of the employee who caused the sexual harassment. This is because that individual is considered to be acting on behalf of the employer in the eyes of the law.

Hostile Environment

This type of harassment occurs when there are unwanted sexual comments, requests or other physical conduct that can be deemed sexual in nature, which creates an unpleasant work environment that is abusive and inappropriate. Examples of this are: displays of inappropriate materials, posting explicit pictures in a public place, sexual jokes, sexual innuendoes and sexual physical contact. To deem a hostile work environment, the employee’s behavior must be unwelcome, frequent and/or pervasive. It is important to note that inappropriate behavior between two employees can create an uncomfortable, hostile work environment for another employee who is merely an innocent bystander. For instance, if an employee sends out multiple emails containing sexual jokes to his/ her coworkers that consequently affect their performance, this would constitute for Hostile Environment sexual harassment. The employer can then be found legally liable for Hostile Environment if they knew about the sexual harassment and did not try to prevent it or stop it from occurring in the workplace. In addition, the employer can also be liable for the conduct of vendors, clients or customers with the same theory that the employer knew or should have known, and did not do anything about it.

If you would like more information regarding laws in the workplace or have questions about updating your employee handbook, don’t hesitate to contact our offices today at or (530) 217-3520.

This blog and the website is made available by both the lawyer or law firm publisher is for educational purposes and only to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog and/or website you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher of the blog and/or website. The blog and/or website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


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