**Content Note: This article talks about quid pro quo and workplace sexual harassment, with mentions of detailed case studies.
The definition of sexual harassment as per the POSH Act or Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013[Law], is broad and values consent and personal boundaries – looking at boundary violations beyond only unwanted physical contact.
In fact, Section 2(n) of the act describes sexual harassment as any unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwanted sexual advances or flirtation that crosses the line, demands or requests for sexual favours, sexually explicit remarks or gestures, displaying or sharing of pornographic or sexually suggestive images.
The Law also highlights sexual harassment that may occur through the creation of an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, that interferes with a woman’s work
performance as well as spotlights the element of power dynamics that may show up at workplace through Quid pro Quo.
Among the various forms of harassment, quid pro quo sexual harassment is one of the particularly serious, complex and insidious manifestations of this kind of inappropriate workplace behaviours.
What is Quid Pro Quo?
Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase that means “something for something”, referring to a sort of exchange.
In the context of the Law, it refers to a specific type of sexual harassment that occurs within professional contexts, involving a power differential. Simply put, it involves someone in a position of power demanding sexual favors or engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior in exchange for preferential treatment (job benefits, promotions, protection) and can even involve the use of threats of negative consequences when met with refusal.
What makes it insidious is the influence and abuse of perceived power to coerce behaviour from one who feels like they are at a disadvantage in the face of it.
This perceived power usually involves seniority at work, age, a higher position at the workplace or having direct control over one’s career. But it may also involve more subtle aspects like social standing, having a larger professional network, fame – and in some cases we have witnessed – may also involve financial power or any other indicator that puts one person in a position of advantage over the other.
These instances may be direct or implied demands for sexual favors that we have seen emerging during appraisals, interviews, lateral shifts, presenting opportunities and other aspects of growth and career advancement.
However, in the course of our experience handling these cases we have also noted long term seemingly innocuous efforts akin to grooming, which start off very subtle, with praise, active support above and beyond the norm and ‘open’, progressive conversations around sex or sexuality. This tends to culminate in a sexual advance that cannot be ignored, and refusal usually leads to withdrawing of all earlier preferential treatment.
Quid pro Quo is a flagrant abuse of power, that creates an intimidating work environment. The power differential present in this type of sexual harassment, compounds the number and nature of obstacles to saying no, drawing clear boundaries and even coming forward to complain about inappropriate behaviour.
What is the impact of Quid Pro Quo?
This emotional distress can affect a person’s job performance, cause them to miss work, or even resign and may even have a detrimental impact on their personal lives.
Elements of quid pro quo may also be noted in the recent case involving the allegations of sexual harassment by several women wrestlers against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. The wrestlers have openly also alleged that there was ‘an environment of “fear and intimidation” in national camps’ and present in interactions with some national coaches acting on Singh’s behalf – thereby underscoring the emotional impact of the experience of fear that results in this situation. This fear could be linked to the uncertainty of tomorrow, lack of options of whom to trust or speak to about the matter, and even the uncertainty of being believed or being able to access resolution.
What do we need to keep in mind as EM’s, IC members and other stakeholders of POSH process when it comes to Quid pro Quo?
It is crucial to understand that quid pro quo harassment not only violates legal boundaries but also undermines the principles of dignity, equality, and consent.
Addressing quid pro quo harassment requires a comprehensive approach that includes raising awareness, implementing clear zero tolerance policies, and providing avenues for reporting and seeking redress. Sensitization of all employees regards consent, what constitutes sexual harassment, expected professional behaviour and the stance of the organisation plays a vital role in empowering individuals to recognize, prevent, and respond to such misconduct.
As Internal Committee (IC) members, it is important to access specialized training programs designed to empower the IC to recognize and respond to such complaints sensitively and promptly. IC members must be able to respond effectively even in situations where there are threats, and understand how to navigate these instances when there may not be any physical evidence of the inappropriate behaviour. It is essential to be able to set aside or be cognizant of any bias that may enter the inquiry process and reject the manipulation of the person in power. Moreover, it is paramount that IC members are well versed with the protocol laid out as per Law, when it comes to dealing with inquiries into complaints of sexual harassment, including understanding the limits of their role when if comes to the “Employer” of the organization and the role of the Local Committee (LC)
If you or your organization would like to sign up for capacity building of the IC members, to know more about this role, write to us at email@example.com
– Written by Rosanna Rodrigues