There are two main types of workplace sexual harassment. The first is quid pro quo. The second is a hostile work environment.
Quid pro quo is a Latin term meaning "this for that." Quid pro quo harassment is probably the most offensive and potentially damaging type of harassment. It occurs when an employee's boss or supervisor demands or pressures an employee for sexual favors, usually in exchange for the employee keeping her job. Sometimes the demands for sexual contact are made as a condition for a promotion or a raise. In either case, the terms and conditions of employment are tied to the employee's submission to the boss' demands.
When this type of harassment occurs, the employee should tell the supervisor that his demands are offensive and unwelcome and must stop and not be repeated. The employee should also report the offensive conduct to another supervisor or human resources. The employee should review the company's anti-harassment policy, if there is one, and make her best attempt to comply. Employees will often be reluctant to report harassment due to fear, embarassment, shame or other legitimate feelings. If the employee does not feel comfortable addressing the situation directly, she should consult an attorney who specializes in employment law.
The second type of harassment occurs when sexual comments, jokes, innuendo or other inappropriate behavior by a co-worker and/or a supervisor becomes so severe and pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. As with quid pro quo harassment, inappropriate sexual remarks or other misconduct should be reported to management and/or human resources.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem that continues to occur despite societal changes and mandatory training for supervisors at large companies. It only takes one bad apple for the misconduct to occur. As has been written elsewhere in this blog, sexual harassment can have devastating financial and emotional repercussions. Victims of sexual harassment should understand that this conduct is illegal and can be stopped. Consultation with an attorney is advised in all serious harassment cases.