Workplace harassment creates an uncomfortable, often hostile working environment for employees. The effects of harassment are far-reaching, and even those who are not subject to the unlawful behaviors may also experience a hostile work environment.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are two types of illegal harassment found in workplaces. Knowing the difference between them ensures you can take the proper action to call attention to the matter and have it rectified.
Quid pro quo harassment
Quid pro quo is Latin, which is translated to “this for that”. It most often occurs between a person with decision-making authority and a subordinate. The subordinate is offered a promotion or raise, provided they agree to the decision maker’s request for romantic or sexual favors. The authority figure may also threaten demotion or termination if the subordinate refuses to comply. In addition to inappropriate sexual behaviors, quid pro quo harassment can also entail a manager or supervisor demanding that workers engage in religious practices to keep employment or receive promotions.
Hostile environment harassment
While quid pro quo occurs at the hands of supervisors, hostile environment harassment can be afforded by anyone to anyone in an organization. It is characterized by unwelcomed sexual conduct, including sexually-charged jokes, pictures, comments, unwanted touching, inappropriate language, and many other behaviors. Because of this harassment, the workplace becomes a toxic and intimidating place, which directly impacts the wellness of workers.
How harassment is established
In order for harassing behaviors to break the law, the victim must be a part of a protected class (which includes race, religion, sex, age, disability, national origin, etc.), and behaviors must be serious enough that any reasonable person would consider them to create a hostile environment at work. Once a claim is made, factors like frequency, severity, and interference with work performance are considered. In many cases, you must establish a consistent pattern of abusive or disruptive behaviors for harassment to be considered unlawful.