What Legally Qualifies As Sexual Harassment?


With the news filled with stories with sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, many women are probably recalling stories of their own sexual harassment at the hands of a boss.

And while real relationships between a boss and an underling do happen, judging whether or not that relationship was truly consensual or a product of harassment can be tricky. While laws against sexual harassment don’t prohibit relationships in the workplace, just because someone's in a relationship with a boss doesn't mean it's a welcome one.

So what legally constitutes sexual harassment? Well, according to a column written by a lawyer in the "Hollywood Reporter," there are two kinds of sexual harassment recognized by the court:

  • “Quid pro quo” – or “this for that” – This is the classic case of when a person in power offers an underling some sort of job benefit or advancement for a sexual relationship. Threats of termination, blacklisting, or job loss for refusal of such advances fall in this area. This is the kind of harassment most Weinstein victims were subject to.
  • Hostile work environment – This type is a bit more difficult to identify, but it’s described as sexual conduct that’s so pervasive a person’s working environment is deemed abusive. And this goes for cases even when the person in the subordinate position has sex with the superior. As the lawyer notes, "The question is whether the advances were welcome and whether victim by her conduct indicated that the alleged sexual advances were unwelcome, not whether her actual participation in sexual intercourse was voluntary."

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