Your boss is making sexual advances toward you at work, and you do not like it. You ask your boss to stop, but your pleas are ignored, and the advances continue. Your boss may even make promises to advance your career if you consent to the advances or threaten to fire you if you do not.
Eventually, the pressure is too much, and one of two things happen. Either the unthinkable happens and you are sexually assaulted at work or the constant badgering forces you to succumb to the advances even though you do not want to.
Do these situations constitute sexual harassment?
Quid pro quo sexual harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace violates state and federal laws. Sexual harassment must be unwelcomed requests for a sex act or romantic encounter. There must either be the threat of basing an employment decision on submission, or the sexual harassment must result in a hostile work environment.
Some forms of sexual harassment are referred to as quid pro quo harassment.
Quid pro quo harassment occurs when you are promised a job benefit for submitting to a boss’s sexual advances or you are threatened with the loss of job benefits or even job loss if you do not.
Only a manager or other supervisor can commit quid pro quo harassment. This is because only a person in that position can control your job benefits or has the right to fire you.
When sexual harassment becomes too much
Quid pro quo harassment can be persistent and overwhelming. Eventually, you may simply agree to the advances even though you do not like them and do not really want to. You just want the harassment to stop.
If this happens, is it considered consent? And if so, does it mean sexual harassment never occurred?
Not always. If the sexual advances are unwelcome and you can show by your actions that you did not want them to occur, even if you “voluntarily” agreed to the harasser’s requests, it may still be considered quid pro quo harassment.
Courts will consider your clothing, actions and language to determine whether you welcomed the sexual advances when you engaged in the sexual acts with the harasser.
Sexual harassment and retaliation
Sexual harassment in the workplace is distressing. You may fear for your safety and your job.
Sometimes, these fears are realized, and you are retaliated against because you refused your boss’s sexual advances. Such retaliation is against the law.
If you lose your job or are otherwise punished at work for refusing a boss’s sexual advances, you have legal rights that you can assert to protect your interests and your rights.