Sexual harassment, in law, consists of deliberate and unwelcome sexual advances, unwanted requests for sexual favors, and certain other offensive conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment may be committed by men or women in many different roles, such as that of boss, client, co-worker, fellow student, military superior, or teacher. However, a large majority of cases involve the harassment of women by their male bosses or fellow employees. A number of countries, including the United States and Canada, have laws against sexual harassment.
Laws recognize two types of employment-related sexual harassment: (1) quid pro quo and (2) hostile environment. Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a person in authority requires sexual favors from an employee in exchange for a job advantage, such as getting hired or promoted or not getting fired. Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning one thing in return for another.
In hostile environment harassment, the offender does not demand an exchange. Instead, a pattern of behavior makes the victim's job so unpleasant that the person's work is affected. The harassment may consist of asking sexual favors, making sexual comments, telling sexual jokes, or displaying pornographic pictures.
United States federal courts began to recognize a link between sexual harassment and job discrimination in 1976. In 1986, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled for the first time that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination forbidden by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 bans gender discrimination "and therefore sexual harassment "in any educational program funded by the federal government.
Canada's Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Federal and provincial laws prohibit sex discrimination throughout Canada.