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Understanding sexual harassment basics

Did you know that sexual harassment can occur outside of a quid pro quo proposition? A quid pro quo scenario is one that occurs when someone demands sex or sexual favors in return for something else. Literally, the phrase means "this for that."

In sexual harassment scenarios, a person might demand sex or sexual favors in return for giving someone a job, promoting someone or paying someone more. But money -- or the chance at more money -- doesn't have to be in play for such harassment to occur. Someone might demand sexual favors in return for not bullying someone else; they might also demand sex in return for not releasing information that might seem damaging or embarrassing.

Sexual harassment can occur even when someone is not outright demanding sex in return for something else. Someone might simply make numerous unwanted sexual advances against another person or behave in a sexual manner toward a person.

It's worth noting that a victim of sexual harassment can be of any gender, and the victim does not have to be of the opposite gender of the person doing the harassment. While you often hear of harassment occurring between someone who is in a supervisory or controlling role over another person, this isn't always the case. A person who harasses others can be on any level in the company, including being a co-worker. In fact, in some unique situations, the victim could be the supervisor or other higher-ranking employee.

It's important to understand that, while there are legal definitions for sexual harassment, those definitions are broad. Understanding how to interpret those definitions in light of your personal situation is an important part of presenting your case in a court or other legal forum, which is why it's helpful to discuss matters confidentially with a lawyer before you make any big decisions.

Source: U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Facts About Sexual Harassment," accessed March 16, 2016

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