In the era of #MeToo, sexual harassment has been in the spotlight and in media headlines. Less often spoken about is sexual favoritism, which is the other side of sexual harassment.
What is sexual favoritism?
Sexual favoritism refers to the employment benefits that the sexually harassed receive for accepting the harassment. For example, imagine a Houston boss propositions their female subordinate by offering them a promotion in exchange for a sexual favor, and that employee accepts. The female employee has received a benefit, and if another female employee who was qualified for that promotion is now denied the promotion, illegal sexual favoritism occurred. Of course, the woman who did the sexual favor has also experienced illegal quid pro quo sexual harassment as well.
Quid pro quo
Under federal law, sexual harassment takes two forms: quid pro quo and hostile environment. An example of quid pro quo is above. It covers situations in which some employment benefit is offered in exchange for sexual favors.
Hostile work environment harassment occurs when the unwelcome sexual conduct rises to the severity level that it creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. For example, where a supervisor constantly talks about sex, posts sexual images in the work, etc.
The paramour exemption
For Texas employers who employ a boyfriend or girlfriend (their “paramour”), the paramour exemption can apply. Isolated incidents of preferential treatment of these boyfriends and girlfriends do not violate the law. While this may seem unfair to other employees, because neither sex is disadvantaged by this unfair treatment as a result of their sex, sexual favoritism has not occurred.
As a Texas employer, you know that you have a duty to protect your employees, but it is also important to know the scope of potential liability for bad-acting employees. This is why you should always consult with an attorney draft your workplace policies and procedures to ensure that if something occurs, you can mitigate the issue and lessen or eliminate potential liability.