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What is “Quid Pro Quo” Harassment?

Despite the leaps and bounds the country and the state of California have made in terms of employment harassment, it continues to occur on a daily basis, especially in the workplace. “Quid pro quo” literally translates from Latin as “something for something” and was a term to describe one transfer as contingent upon the other. The early form of quid pro quo was based in contract law, where one person would exchange something of value for something else of value. However, in recent years, the term has become associated with workplace sexual harassment.

“Quid pro quo harassment” is a defined term in the California Fair Employment & Housing Council Regulations as “explicit or implicit conditioning of a job or promotion on an applicant or employee’s submission to sexual advances or other conduct based on sex.”

This is the type of harassment that we hear about all too often in the community and actually makes employees spiteful rather than sympathetic. This is a very real form of harassment and not only belittles the employee, but also the company itself. Quid pro quo harassment is a very big issue facing employees throughout California.

Sexual harassment of any type is unlawful in California and a victim is not required to proof a sustained loss of “tangible job benefits” to establish harassment. Depending on the level of harassment and whether physical contact was involved, the employer may also face criminal charges. The California Penal Code provides that misdemeanor sexual battery charges can lead to a fine up to $3,000 and possible imprisonment in county jail of up to 6 months.

California holds employers to a higher standard than normal violators of sexual harassment, since employers should always have the best interests of their employees in mind. Employers have a high standard of care to their employees, and the perception that they are taking advantage of their position, and evidence that they used their position to coerce sexual favors, could lead to direct criminal charges.

As such, a victim of quid pro quo harassment has several options open to them: file a complaint under the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, file a claim in civil court, or file criminal charges (depending on the type of conduct in question).  The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing offer employees with an avenue to attempt negotiation and mediation after quid pro quo harassment. However, if the Department does not believe that the harassment rose to the level of breaking the law, you may have to file a claim in court yourself.

Unfortunately, the effects of quid pro quo harassment often linger with victims. Employees may face a litany of abuse from coworkers following the quid pro quo harassment. The rumors run rampant on these types of harassment claims, putting an employee’s professional career in jeopardy. It is therefore important that victims of quid pro quo harassment come forward the first time they experience any type of abuse in the workplace. The more victims of quid pro quo harassment come forward, the more these types of harassers will be held accountable for their actions.

Perhaps one day, “quid pro quo” will return to the old Latin contractual phrase that really means a bushel of grain for one hen. However, there is still a long road to go to get to that point.

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