Work and Employment

Quid Pro Quo Harassment: Complete Guide for Employees

Quid pro quo harassment is when an employer makes career decisions about an employee based on their willingness to grant or deny unwelcome romantic or sexual favors. This can include salary increases, bonuses, promotions or job security in exchange for sexual favors.

Chelsea Spinos, Writer
Immigration lawyer at Manifest dressed in glasses and blue shirt

By:

Chelsea Spinos

Chelsea Spinos is a contributing writer for Manifest Law. She covers all topics related to U.S. visas and green cards. She is passionate about helping people navigate their immigration journey with clarity and confidence.

Reviewer:

Timothy Lenahan, Esq.

Timothy R. Lenahan is the lead Employment lawyer at Manifest Law. He has experience with all facets of employment law.

6 min read • May 23, 2024

Man touching woman on shoulder at work
Man touching woman on shoulder at work
Man touching woman on shoulder at work

Key takeaways

"Quid pro quo" means "something for something”.

Quid pro quo harassment can include offering promotions, salary raises, project assignment, job benefits, or job security in exchange for agreeing to sexual favors.

At the federal level in the United States, quid pro quo harassment is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is enforced by EEOC.

You may be able to receive compensation — such as economic emotional, or punitive damages — if you've been a victim of quid pro quo harassment.

In 2024, most employers are more careful with how they approach their employees with sexual advances. Here at Manifest Law, our employment lawyers are experienced with the most complex sexual harassment cases and can help you defend your rights and get justice you deserve.

Feeling trapped in a workplace where promotions come with strings attached? Unfortunately, you aren’t alone. According to a study, approximately 11% of 800 New York employees surveyed reported being victims of quid pro quo sexual harassment, with 12.25% of women and 9.5% of men affected.


So, if your boss is pressuring you for favors in exchange for career benefits, you might be facing this unsettling form of workplace harassment.


It's time to empower yourself and get the respect you deserve.

Woman with hands on man's shoulders at work
Woman with hands on man's shoulders at work
Woman with hands on man's shoulders at work

What is quid pro quo harassment?

What is quid pro quo harassment?

Quid pro quo harassment is a type of workplace sexual harassment where an employer makes job decisions based on an employee's willingness to grant or deny unwelcome romantic or sexual favors. This can include any kind of employment benefit from salary raises to project assignment and promotions.

Quid pro quo harassment meaning

Quid pro quo harassment meaning

"Quid pro quo" is a Latin term that means "something for something”. In the context of workplace harassment, the job benefits are directly tied to accepting or rejecting sexual advances.

"Quid pro quo" is a Latin term that means "something for something”.

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Woman in distress with hand on forehead
Woman in distress with hand on forehead

Characteristics of quid pro quo harassment

Characteristics of quid pro quo harassment

In the context of sexual harassment in the workplace, quid pro quo harassment is defined by several characteristics. These include…


  • Conditioned benefits: An employee is offered job benefits — like promotions, raises, or favorable assignments — in exchange for sexual favors. Conversely, an employee might face negative consequences — like demotion, dismissal, or retaliation — for rejecting sexual advances. Sexual advances does not mean sex, but could mean going out on dates, kisses and romantic touching.

  • Power imbalance: Typically, quid pro quo harassment involves a person in a position of authority — such as a supervisor or manager — who has the power to influence the victim.

  • Direct impact: This form of sexual harassment in the workplace directly affects the employee’s job status, benefits, and ability to do their work well.


Do any of these characteristics fit a scenario you’re experiencing at work? If so, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at Manifest Law. You can book a free consultation where we will listen to your story, assess the strength of your case, and get you the legal support you may need.

In the context of sexual harassment in the workplace, quid pro quo harassment is defined by several characteristics. These include…


  • Conditioned benefits: An employee is offered job benefits — like promotions, raises, or favorable assignments — in exchange for sexual favors. Conversely, an employee might face negative consequences — like demotion, dismissal, or retaliation — for rejecting sexual advances. Sexual advances does not mean sex, but could mean going out on dates, kisses and romantic touching.

  • Power imbalance: Typically, quid pro quo harassment involves a person in a position of authority — such as a supervisor or manager — who has the power to influence the victim.

  • Direct impact: This form of sexual harassment in the workplace directly affects the employee’s job status, benefits, and ability to do their work well.


Do any of these characteristics fit a scenario you’re experiencing at work? If so, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at Manifest Law. You can book a free consultation where we will listen to your story, assess the strength of your case, and get you the legal support you may need.

Woman in distress at desk
Woman in distress at desk
Woman in distress at desk

Quid pro quo harassment examples

Quid pro quo harassment examples

Quid pro quo harassment can happen in a number of different ways. These examples show how job-related benefits and opportunities are conditioned upon agreeing to unwelcome sexual advances or romantic favors.

Type of quid pro quo harassment

Promotion for a sexual favor

Threats against job security

Salary increases

Training opportunity (with strings attached)

Job assignments for a favor

Performance reviews

Flexible hours with a catch

Work from home policy

Preferential treatment for personal favor

Definition

A manager asks you to go on a date with them and hints that if you do that, you may be eligible to get a raise or promotion. Can be just between the lines vs explicit.

Your supervisor implies that your job is at risk unless you agree to a weekend getaway to "work on a project" together. They frequently remind you of their power to terminate your employment.

Your boss promises you that you will receive a significant raise if you start a romantic relationship with them. When you refuse, the promised raise isn’t given to you.

Your work mentor offers you a spot in an exclusive training program that would significantly boost your career, but only if you agree to engage in sexual activities. You feel pressured but refuse, and the opportunity is given to someone else.

Your project lead tells you that you can be assigned to a high impact project with a top client if you agree to go on a date with them. After declining, you are then assigned to less desirable projects.

During performance reviews, your manager promises that they will give you an excellent review, resulting in a bonus, only if you agree to a romantic favor. You refuse and get a poor performance review instead.

Your supervisor offers you flexible working hours to support your family commitments, under the condition you go out with them on a date. You refuse and are denied flexible hours.

Your manager offers you the chance to work from home a few days a week, but makes it clear that it will only be approved if you engage in a romantic relationship with them. You decline and are not given permission to work from home.

Your senior executive tells you that you will receive special consideration for a key leadership role if you spend personal, off-hours time with them. After telling them no, the leadership role is given to someone else who is less qualified.

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Man and woman hands on knee
Man and woman hands on knee

Quid pro quo sexual harassment vs hostile work environment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment vs hostile work environment

While both quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment are forms of workplace harassment, they have distinct characteristics.


As we’ve explained in previous sections, quid pro quo harassment involves explicit requests for sexual or romantic favors in exchange for job benefits (or consequences). On the other hand, hostile work environment harassment doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual in nature. It may include verbal abuse, mistreatment against a protected characteristic, deliberately excluding employees from meetings, or constant criticism.


The person instigating the workplace harassment also can help you discern between a case of quid pro quo harassment vs hostile work environment harassment.


With quid pro quo, it’s typically involving someone in a position of authority (such as a supervisor or manager) who uses their power to influence the victim.

With a hostile work environment, the harassment can come from anyone — peers, supervisors, subordinates, clients, or even customers.


Lastly, a hostile work environment is marked by frequency and severity of mistreatment — there is a consistent pattern of offensive behavior which creates an intimidating, offensive, or uncomfortable work environment. With quid pro quo harassment, it may just be one isolated instance.


Still not sure what type of situation you’re in? Check out our hostile work environment guide to learn more about the differences.

Distressed man sitting on sofa
Distressed man sitting on sofa
Distressed man sitting on sofa

Recognizing signs of quid pro quo harassment

Recognizing signs of quid pro quo harassment

The signs of quid pro quo harassment can sometimes be subtle and difficult to define. However, recognizing the signs is essential for getting the respect and fair treatment you deserve in the workplace.


Here are 10 of the most common signs of quid pro harassment:


  • Direct asks for sexual favors: Your boss asks for sexual favors in exchange for job benefits like promotions or raises.

  • Threats or ultimatums: Your supervisor suggests you could lose your job or opportunities if you don’t agree to their advances.

  • Pressure for relationships: A colleague or manager pressures you for a romantic relationship, or repeatedly asks you out, even after expressing disinterest.

  • Inappropriate comments: Your boss makes comments about your appearance or willingness to accept favors in exchange for work benefits.

  • Unequal treatment: You notice those who comply with advances get better treatment or promotions.

  • Unexplained job decisions: Job decisions seem based on whether employees engage in sexual activities rather than skills or experience.

  • Isolation after declining advances: You’re excluded from meetings or isolated at work after turning down sexual advances.

  • Unwanted physical touch: You experience unwanted touching, hugging, or other forms of physical contact.

  • Gifts or bribes: Your boss gives your gifts to encourage you to accept inappropriate invitations.

  • Asked to meetings outside the workplace: Your manager asks you to meet outside of the workplace or off-hours, making you feel uncomfortable.


Do any of these signs look familiar? If so, reach out to us at Manifest Law. We will help you take the appropriate actions to address the harassment and protect your rights and well-being.

💡 Manifest Tip: If something doesn't feel right to you in how your boss acts in front of you, speak with a qualified employment lawyer to see you are a victim of quid pro quo harassment.

Understanding your legal rights

Understanding your legal rights

If you’re a victim of quid pro quo harassment, know that you have rights and protection under both federal and state laws.

Federal law

At the federal level in the United States, quid pro quo harassment is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).


What this law means – This law says that employers can't treat you unfairly as an employee because of your sex. That includes situations where your boss tries to get something in return like job benefits, or making threats if you don't agree to sexual advances.


Responsibility of your employer – If your supervisor or manager instigates an instance of quid pro quo harassment, your employer is legally responsible for stopping it. If they don't take action, they can be held accountable for allowing workplace harassment to happen.


What you can do as a victim – If you experience quid pro quo harassment, this law allows you to seek things like back pay or damages for emotional distress (more on this below!).

State law

In addition to federal law, there may be additional protections for cases of quid pro quo harassment. Many states have their own laws, which may mirror or expand upon the protections defined by Title VII. Some states also have other agencies apart from the EEOC, who are responsible for enforcing these laws and accepting complaints.


For example, in the state of New York, the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) has a lower standard for proving quid pro quo harassment — conduct doesn't need to be severe or pervasive to be unlawful.


It's essential to check the specific laws in your state around workplace harassment, as their level of protection can vary. Some states may also have shorter deadlines for filing complaints compared to federal laws.

Request free consultation with Manifest Law today

Request free consultation
with Manifest Law today

Reach out to get an evaluation the strength of your quid pro quo sexual harassment case.

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Man holding palm to camera
Man holding palm to camera

Seeking damages for quid pro quo harassment

Seeking damages for quid pro quo harassment

If you've been through quid pro quo sexual harassment, you deserve to be compensated for the harm it caused. This includes things like lost wages, missed opportunities for advancement, and the emotional toll it took on you.


Here’s an overview of the types of damages that may be given:

Type of damage

Economic damages

Emotional damages

Punitive damages

What it is

This includes back pay (wages lost from the time of the harassment to the present) and front pay (future lost earnings if you are unable to return to your job or have to take a lower-paying job).


You could also be compensated for lost benefits such as health insurance, or retirement contributions.

This is compensation for the emotional pain and suffering caused by the harassment and/or retaliation. This includes anxiety, depression, stress, and other psychological impacts.

In serious cases, the court might even order the company to pay extra money, called punitive damages, to punish them for their behavior and make sure it doesn't happen again.

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For determining the total amount of damages you could receive for your case of quid pro quo harassment, we recommend you speak with an employment attorney. They can review your situation and supportive evidence, evaluate the impact of the harassment, and give an estimate of the damages.


If you’d like to get a sense of how much you could receive, take a look at the example scenario and calculation below:

Emma, a sales manager, faces unwanted advances from her supervisor, Mr. Smith, who promises promotions and raises in exchange if they "Grab a drink together". When Emma rejects him, Mr. Smith becomes hostile. Despite reporting the harassment to HR, the company takes no action. Emma is not invited to an important meeting or is facing hostile comments and jokes in team meetings. Feeling hopeless, she seeks legal advice and files a lawsuit for quid pro quo harassment and retaliation.

Emma, a sales manager, faces unwanted advances from her supervisor, Mr. Smith, who promises promotions and raises in exchange if they "Grab a drink together". When Emma rejects him, Mr. Smith becomes hostile. Despite reporting the harassment to HR, the company takes no action. Emma is not invited to an important meeting or is facing hostile comments and jokes in team meetings. Feeling hopeless, she seeks legal advice and files a lawsuit for quid pro quo harassment and retaliation.

Economic damages

Lost Wages: Emma was forced to take a leave of absence due to the hostile work environment. During this time, she lost $20,000 in wages.

Lost Wages: Emma was forced to take a leave of absence due to the hostile work environment. During this time, she lost $20,000 in wages.

Lost Benefits: Emma's health insurance and retirement contributions were suspended during her leave, resulting in an additional $5,000 in lost benefits.

Lost Benefits: Emma's health insurance and retirement contributions were suspended during her leave, resulting in an additional $5,000 in lost benefits.

Job Search Expenses: Emma spent $1,500 on job search expenses while trying to find alternative employment during her leave.

Job Search Expenses: Emma spent $1,500 on job search expenses while trying to find alternative employment during her leave.

Total Economic Damages: $26,500

Total Economic Damages: $26,500

Emotional damages

Emotional Distress: Emma experienced severe anxiety and depression as a result of the harassment and retaliation. Her therapy cost her $3,000.

Emotional Distress: Emma experienced severe anxiety and depression as a result of the harassment and retaliation. Her therapy cost her $3,000.

Pain and Suffering: Emma endured significant emotional pain and suffering throughout the ordeal. Based on similar cases, her pain and suffering are estimated at $25,000.

Pain and Suffering: Emma endured significant emotional pain and suffering throughout the ordeal. Based on similar cases, her pain and suffering are estimated at $25,000.

Total Non-Economic Damages: $28,000

Total Non-Economic Damages: $28,000

Punitive damages

Considering the severity of the harassment, the court awards punitive damages of $75,000 to deter similar behavior in the future.

Considering the severity of the harassment, the court awards punitive damages of $75,000 to deter similar behavior in the future.

In this scenario, Emma is awarded a total of $141,500 in damages for the harm she suffered due to quid pro quo harassment and retaliation.

Sorting papers on desk
Sorting papers on desk
Sorting papers on desk

How to report quid pro quo harassment

How to report quid pro quo harassment

We know that experiencing quid pro quo harassment can be incredibly stressful. However, knowing how to report it can empower you to take action and get the respect you deserve.


Here are the steps you can take to report quid pro quo harassment:

Step 1: Document everything!

As soon as workplace harassment starts happening, we recommend you start documenting.


Note every instance of the quid pro quo harassment, including dates, times, locations, what exactly happened, and who was there. You can use "Notes" app on your phone to capture the exact timeline and details of events. In addition, try to take capture all the tangible evidence that you can — like emails, texts, or voicemails — hold onto those as they can support your case, especially if you choose to take legal action.

Step 2: Report the harassment internally

If you’re comfortable, you can first report the harassment to your direct supervisor — unless they are the harasser, of course.


If your supervisor is the problem or you don’t feel comfortable speaking with them, go directly to your HR department.


if there is no HR in your company, share details with your colleagues who can later testify on your behalf and write an affidavit explaining the details of the quid pro quo harassment you experienced.

Step 3: Reach out to Manifest Law

If the HR department wasn’t able to resolve the issue, or if you face retaliation for speaking up, we highly encourage you to take legal action. Our employment lawyers at Manifest Law have specialized knowledge in workplace harassment cases and can help.


Book a free consultation to understand your rights and get guidance on your legal options.

Step 4: File a complaint

If internal reporting didn’t work or wasn’t the best option, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You typically have 180 days from the incident to do this.


A sexual harassment lawyer can help prepare your case, gather the evidence, and draft an effective complaint to submit to the EEOC.

Step 5: Follow up

Whether you submitted a complaint for quid pro quo harassment internally, or externally to the EEOC, it’s essential to keep track of your complaint’s progress.

You can check the status of your claim filed with the EEOC on their website here.


Taking the step to report quid pro quo harassment is a courageous and crucial action. Remember, you’re not alone—resources like the EEOC and employment lawyers at Manifest Law are here to support you.

Magnifying glass with mystery investigation notes
Magnifying glass with mystery investigation notes
Magnifying glass with mystery investigation notes

What evidence do I need to prove my case?

What evidence do I need to prove my case?

Proving a case of quid pro quo harassment involves gathering solid evidence to show that harassment occurred and that it affected your job and well-being.


There are a few forms of evidence you could collect to build a strong case, including:


  • Emails, texts, voicemails, or recorded conversations where the harasser explicitly links job benefits or penalties to sexual favors

  • Witness testimonies from coworkers or others

  • Documents showing any changes in your job status, like promotions, demotions, or salary changes, that happened around the time of the harassment

  • Performance reviews that went from positive to negative, around the time of the harassment

  • Log of harassment incidents, noting the dates, times, locations, what was said or done, and any witnesses who were there

  • Physical items related to the harassment, like unwelcome gifts or notes


If you need help, a sexual harassment lawyer can help you understand your rights, guide you on gathering evidence, and represent you if the case goes to court or through a settlement process.

Clock at 10
Clock at 10
Clock at 10

What are the time limits for filing a report?

What are the time limits for filing a report?

When dealing with quid pro quo harassment, it's important to know the deadlines for filing a report. These deadlines, known as statutes of limitations, vary depending on whether you're filing at the federal or state level.

If you’re filing at the federal level…

If you’re filing at the federal level…

You have 180 days from the last incident of harassment to file a complaint with the EEOC.

💡 Manifest Tip: Most states with their own anti-discrimination laws and agencies (called "deferral states"), extend this period to 300 days. Check if your state is a deferral state to be sure!

If you’re filing at the state level…

If you’re filing at the state level…

The deadline for filing a quid pro quo harassment case can vary by state. For both California and New York, the filing deadline extends to three years from the last incident of harassment.

Man holding hands of a woman
Man holding hands of a woman
Man holding hands of a woman

How can I protect myself from retaliation?

How can I protect myself from retaliation?

If you’re concerned about getting fired, demoted, or experiencing a hostile work environment after reporting quid pro quo harassment, know that there are laws in place to protect you against retaliation.


At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who file a discrimination complaint, participate in an investigation, or oppose discriminatory practices. This includes reporting quid pro quo harassment!


Additionally, many state laws are in place that prohibit retaliation against employees who report harassment.


If you experience retaliation after speaking up against workplace harassment, don’t hesitate to contact our team at Manifest Law. Our experienced employment lawyers have handled many cases related to workplace harassment and retaliation.


We will work to defend your rights and get you the justice you deserve. Book a free consultation today.

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How Manifest Law can help

How Manifest Law can help

At Manifest Law, we understand the distress that comes with experiencing quid pro quo harassment. Our team of employment lawyers has supported many individuals navigating similar challenges, advocating fiercely for their rights and dignity.


When you contact us, you're not just seeking legal assistance – you're gaining compassionate allies dedicated to your well-being. We'll listen empathetically to your story, clarify your legal rights, and take proactive steps to address the injustice you've faced.


You don't have to confront this alone. Let us handle the complexities of your quid pro quo harassment case while you focus on healing and moving forward. Reach out today to schedule a confidential consultation and get the respect and justice you deserve.

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Principal attorney at Manifest Law

Speak to us today

Learn how much you may be owed!

Check mark in a circle icon

You deserve to be fairly treated at your workplace

Check mark in a circle icon

All calls are confidential and can be anonymous

Check mark in a circle icon

You are not obligated to hire us or proceed with the case

Fast response. Same day free consultation.

Picture of Avi Goldenburg, principal attorney at Manifest law, smiling in eye glasses and a blue button up shirt in his office.

Avi Goldenberg

Principal attorney at Manifest Law

Speak to us today

Learn how much you may be owed!

Check mark in a circle icon

You deserve to be fairly treated at your workplace

Check mark in a circle icon

All calls are confidential and can be anonymous

Check mark in a circle icon

You are not obligated to hire us or proceed with the case

Fast response.
Same day free consultation.

Picture of Avi Goldenburg, principal attorney at Manifest law, smiling in eye glasses and a blue button up shirt in his office.

Avi Goldenberg

Principal attorney at Manifest Law

Successful cases against sexual harassment

Over 1,500+ employment cases handled by Manifest lawyer-partners

Successful cases against sexual harassment

Over 1,500+ employment cases handled by Manifest lawyer-partners

$125k settlement for a victim of sexual harassment in NYC

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$30k settlement for a victim of sexual harassment

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Six-figure settlement for unpaid intern

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$28k settlement for a housekeeper in new york

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$125k settlement for a victim of sexual harassment in NYC

Background: A manager sent his employee, our client, a very personal and inappropriate picture. This obviously upset our client. She immediately quit her job.


The company ended up settling prior to trial.

Result:

$125,000

Successful cases against sexual harassment

Over 1,500+ employment cases handled by Manifest employment lawyers

$125k settlement for a victim of sexual harassment in NYC

Learn more about visa types

$30k settlement for a victim of sexual harassment

Learn more about visa types

Six-figure settlement for unpaid intern

Learn more about visa types

$28k settlement for a housekeeper in new york

Learn more about visa types
Young woman with brown hair smiling at camera

$125k settlement for a victim of sexual harassment in NYC

Background: Our client received a deeply personal and inappropriate picture from her manager, which understandably upset her. She quit her job right away.


The company ended up settling prior to trial.

Result:

$125,000

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2024 Manifest Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

Attorney Advertising. This website is intended for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and is no substitute for consulting a licensed attorney. Only an attorney can provide you with legal advice, and only after considering your specific facts and circumstances. You should not act on any information on this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney. manifestlaw.com is a product of Manifest Law PLLC. Manifest Law PLLC is a law firm operating as a New York Professional Corporation. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

2024 Manifest Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

Attorney Advertising. This website is intended for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and is no substitute for consulting a licensed attorney. Only an attorney can provide you with legal advice, and only after considering your specific facts and circumstances. You should not act on any information on this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney. manifestlaw.com is a product of Manifest Law PLLC. Manifest Law PLLC is a law firm operating as a New York Professional Corporation. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

2024 Manifest Copyright. All Rights Reserved.