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Sexual Harassment: "Quid Pro Quo" vs. "Hostile Environment" Harassment

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  1. 0:05 Sexual Harassment
  2. 1:03 Quid Pro Quo
  3. 2:38 Hostile Environment
  4. 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Wind Goodfriend

Sexual harassment is any time comments, gestures, or physical contact occurs that is unwelcome, repetitive, and deliberate. This lesson defines two types of sexual harassment ('quid pro quo' and 'hostile environment') and provides examples of each.

Sexual Harassment

Imagine you go on a job interview. You're all dressed up, you have your resume ready to go, and you feel ready for the interview. But when you get there, as you walk through the office building, you notice calendars posted on the walls showing men and women who don't have a lot of clothes on. When you get to the boss's office, instead of asking you questions about your work experience, all she does is talk about how good looking you are and how you would get the job if you're willing to sleep with her in exchange. If this happened to you, would you take the job?

Ideally, this kind of thing would never happen on a job interview, but unfortunately, we don't always get to live in an ideal world. The example we just discussed is a prime example of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment, in general, can be defined as any time sexual comments, gestures, or physical contact occurs that is unwelcome, repetitive, and deliberate. Sexual harassment can come in two forms; let's talk about each form and go over some examples.

Quid Pro Quo

The first type of sexual harassment is probably the more well known, and it's called quid pro quo harassment. Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that literally translated means 'this for that.' In other words, in this form of sexual harassment, someone with more power demands sexual favors from someone with less power and makes threats if these demands aren't met. So basically, what we're saying here is that a boss might tell an employee that he or she has to submit to sexual advances, and if these advances are refused, the employee might get fired or might not be considered for a promotion.

If you think about the example from the beginning of this lesson, you saw quid pro quo harassment there. The boss, during the interview, suggested you would get the job in exchange for sex. That's definitely quid pro quo harassment! Any request for sexual contact that comes with a threat is harassment. The threat could be something bad, such as getting fired, or it could be not getting something good, such as being hired, getting a raise, or getting a promotion at work.

While many people think of sexual harassment in workplace settings, it can occur in any setting where one person has power over another. For example, many women in the United States military have complained that they have experienced sexual harassment from their supervisors in the military.

Another place where harassment can be seen is on college or university campuses - between students and professors. If a professor tells a student that a grade will only be changed if the student provides sexual favors, that's quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Hostile Environment

While quid pro quo sexual harassment is unethical but fairly straightforward, the second type of sexual harassment is a little more ambiguous. The second type is called hostile environment. In this form of harassment, sexual gestures, images, or conversations at work make an individual uncomfortable to a level that interferes with his or her work.

In hostile environment, different people will have different levels of what they find acceptable or not. Imagine you work in an office, and the person with the office directly across from yours has a calendar hanging on the wall that shows women in bikinis. Would you be offended by the calendar? Some people will, and others won't. What if you go into the break room during lunch, and two other employees are talking about sex? Is that offensive or not?

As you can see, hostile environment harassment is more subjective and sometimes more subtle. This can lead to problems when people do feel like they're experiencing it because they might not feel they have the right to say anything or to complain. People might think they're being too sensitive, or that they don't want to upset their fellow co-workers by making a fuss. However, if an employee truly feels so uncomfortable or distracted that he or she can't get work done, then the environment has certainly become a problem.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, we first defined sexual harassment, which is any time sexual comments, gestures, or physical contact occurs that is unwelcome, repetitive, and deliberate.

We also defined two specific types of sexual harassment. First was quid pro quo harassment, which is when someone with more power demands sexual favors from someone with less power and makes threats if these demands are not met. Second was hostile environment, which is when sexual gestures, images, or conversations at work make an individual uncomfortable to a level that interferes with his or her work.

Either form of harassment is unprofessional and unethical - and should not be occurring in any workplace or school setting.

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