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Employer liability: hostile work environment vs. quid pro quo

On Behalf of | Jul 27, 2022 | Employee Rights, Employment Disputes |

Harassment of any kind is bad for the workplace. It’s detrimental to both the employee who is on the receiving end and the employer who is supposed to curtail it. But not all harassment is equal and the employer’s responsibility depends on the type of harassment that occurs.

Quid pro quo harassment

Quid pro quo refers to exchange—in the context of harassment, the quid pro quo harasser demands something of the employee in exchange for something work-related. Although the demand is often of a sexual nature, it does not have to be.

The key to quid pro quo harassment is that it is committed by someone in the organization who is in a position of authority over the employee. This allows the harasser to threaten the employee by affecting their pay, promotion, termination or another facet of the job. The employer is automatically liable for a supervisor’s conduct when that supervisor commits quid pro quo harassment.

Hostile work environment

Unlike quid pro quo harassment, a hostile work environment can be created by anyone, not just a supervisor. Rather than an isolated incident, it is typically identified by a pattern of conduct that creates an atmosphere that the employee reasonably feels is threatening or offensive.

If the hostile work environment is created by non-supervisory personnel, the employer will be held liable if it should have known of the harassment but failed to take corrective action. However, if supervisory personnel are responsible, liability is harder to avoid. To do so, the employer must have taken action to prevent and correct the harassing behavior and the harassed employee must have failed to take advantage of the employer’s preventative or corrective actions.