Helping You Navigate Employment Law

When the Boss Uses a Position of Authority to Create a Sexually Hostile Work Environment

On Behalf of | Jan 1, 2023 | Firm News

Sexual harassment from a supervisor

Sexual harassment in the workplace is complicated, especially when your harasser is a supervisor.  Many employees find themselves drawn into sexual relationships with the boss.  The question, can a sexual relationship with the boss ever truly be consensual?  There is no easy answer to that question due to the difficult question of what triggers sexual attraction.  Sexual attraction can be physical, it can be emotional.  But what happens when sexual attraction arises from someone’s desire for job advancement, professional success, or job security.  Very often we find in talking to our clients that what seems like a consensual relationship has the possibility of being an unlawful relationship  When there is an inherent power dynamic in a relationship, one person will always have the upper hand, especially in the workplace. If the relationship turns sour (which is probable, since about  2 of 3 office relationships end in a breakup), your employment may be negatively impacted.

Your employer is responsible when your supervisor harasses you

The US Supreme Court has defined a supervisor as an employee empowered by an employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim. If you are harassed by your supervisor within the company, your employer is almost always legally responsible. Employers gave responsibility and power to these supervisors, which can enable them to harass those they have professional power over.

How a power imbalance can be used by a superior

A harasser who is in a position of power can leverage their standing against lower-level employees. Often, they use their position in hopes that you will not report them – this is one reason why this type of harassment is rarely reported. The threat of professional retaliation may be direct or implicit.

A harasser may also use their position just to demonstrate their power – they might not be genuinely interested in a romantic or sexual relationship. They may do this to climb the corporate ladder, or they could have a personality that relies on asserting power. Regardless of their motivation, sexual harassment can take many forms.  So if you find yourself in a sexual relationship at work with someone in a position of authority, please contact [email protected] to better understand all of your options.

Types of harassment you are protected from

If your supervisor sexually harasses you, the harassment may be quid pro quo harassment or hostile work environment harassment (HWE). Quid pro quo means “this for that.” If a supervisor asks for sexual favors in exchange for a job benefit (a promotion or raise) or threatens a job detriment (a demotion or termination), that constitutes “quid pro quo” harassment. Your employer is liable for this situation. But, if the threat is not realized, this could be HWE instead.  HWE is more common and more subjective. This kind of harassment is unwelcome.

What to do if your supervisor is sexually harassing you

Too often these situations go unreported out of fear of job retaliation, but allowing abusers to continue harassing their subordinate employees is wrong.  If your supervisor is harassing you, you should immediately seek legal counsel by contacting [email protected]. You deserve to work in a safe and productive work environment and receiving advice from an attorney is the best way to ensure that you are protected in that pursuit.