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Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment: 6 Essential Things Every Employee Needs to Know

When your boss conditions aspects of your employment on performing sexual favors for him or her, it may be difficult to know what to do.  It may seem like your only option is to do what he or she is asking for or risk losing your job.  And in many situations, this very well may be the case.

If this sounds like your work environment, don’t panic.  There is a way out.  This type of conduct is known as quid pro quo sexual harassment, and it is illegal.

So What Does this Term Mean?

“Quid pro quo” is Latin that literally translates to “this for that.”  In the law, it is a form of sexual harassment that occurs when aspects of employment are conditioned on submission to unwelcome sexual conduct.  It may occur as:

  • Termination upon refusal to engage in sexual acts with a superior;
  • Denial of employment pay;
  • Denial of benefits;
  • Removal of title; or
  • Demotion in position.

It does not matter whether you chose to comply with the demand or rejected the advances.  As long as the conduct was unwelcome and made you feel uncomfortable, it is considered quid pro quo sexual harassment.

How to Prove Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

To claim quid pro quo sexual harassment, the courts require you to be able to prove the following elements to a jury:

  1. You were an employee of or applied for a job with the company;
  2. The alleged harasser, made an unwelcome sexual advance toward you, or engaged in some other unwanted verbal or physical conduct of that was sexual in nature;
  3. Certain job benefits were conditioned, either by words or by conduct, on your acceptance of the harasser’s sexual advances or conduct. Or employment decisions affecting your job were made based on your acceptance or rejection of the sexual conduct in question;
  4. The harasser was a supervisor or in an administrative position for the company at the time of the harassing conduct;
  5. You were harmed or offended by the conduct; and
  6. The conduct was a substantial factor in causing this harm or offense.

Essentially, these elements boil down to proof that the conduct itself resulted in a significant employment action.   Overall, the judge will want proof that the harassing act was tied to an adverse employment action.  Examples include termination after rejection of unwanted sexual advances, or being passed over for a promotion.

Examples of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

So what does this form of sexual harassment actually look like in practice?  To begin, it is important to understand that quid pro quo sexual harassment may be implicit or explicit in nature.

Implicit Sexual Harassment

When is quid pro quo sexual harassment implicit?  Implicit quid pro quo sexual harassment is often more difficult to spot than its explicit counterpart.  For your reference, we have included a few examples of implicit quid pro quo sexual harassment to help you gain a better understanding of what to keep an eye out for:

  • A waitress in a restaurant is mid-shift when her boss puts his hand on her back. Visibly uncomfortable, the waitress object to this.  In response, the boss replies, “Don’t you want this job?”
    • Why would this be considered implicit? Because the boss in this situation is not explicitly demanding a sexual favor in exchange for the waitress keeping her job, it can be classified as implicit in nature.  Instead of outright asking her to perform some sexual act, her boss is touching her inappropriately while on the job.
  • A supervisor touches a web designer’s thigh while asking him if he wants to take on a big assignment.
    • Why is this implicit sexual harassment? Like the last example, the supervisor is not explicitly asking the web designer to perform a sexual action in order to be assigned the special assignment. Instead, she is touching him in an inappropriate manner while simultaneously asking him if he would like an extra assignment.  It is implicit in her actions that the inappropriate touching is why she is offering him the position.

Explicit Sexual Harassment

Explicit quid pro quo sexual harassment is sometimes easier to spot in the workplace simply because it is more obvious.  Examples include:

  • An accountant goes to her supervisor to ask for a raise. The supervisor tells her that the raise is hers – if she gives him a kiss.
    • What makes this explicit sexual harassment? Unlike our implicit sexual harassment situations, it is clear from the supervisor’s words that she has to kiss him in order to get the raise she is seeking.  He has made it explicit that this conduct determines whether or not she gets the raise.
  • A cashier’s boss tells him that unless he goes on a date with her, she will cut back the number of hours that he works each week.
    • Why is this explicit sexual harassment? Once again, the boss’s language makes it abundantly clear that the cashier’s weekly schedule depends on whether he agrees to go on a date with his boss.  If he doesn’t go on the date, she will cut his hours in retaliation.


If you find yourself in a scenario similar to the ones discussed above, you may be wondering what will result if you bring a lawsuit against your company.  Namely, what kind of damages may you be entitled to?  You could potentially receive:

  • Compensatory damages for lost wages, lost benefits, or even lost employment opportunities;
  • Emotional distress (in some cases);
  • Getting your job back.

Punitive damages are occasionally awarded for particularly egregious violations so as to encourage the defendant from engaging in or allowing sexual harassment in the future.  However, this is a rare occurrence.

J.P. Ward & Associates is on Your Side

When you are experiencing quid pro sexual harassment at work, it is scary.  But you don’t have to go through it alone.  J.P. Ward & Associates is here with the legal guidance and expertise needed to navigate the difficult situation of quid pro quo sexual harassment.  To get the legal assistance that you deserve, contact us by filling out this contact form or by calling 877-259-WARD.

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