Do I have a sexual harassment case if my boss asks me to dress “sexier”?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 1, 2012

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Employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of sex. Asking you to dress in a provocative manner may involve both quid pro quo harassment and be part of creating a hostile environment. No employee should be put in a position that encourages people (whether other employees or visitors, vendors, customers, or salespeople) to make unwelcome sexual advances.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment

Quid pro quo, which literally means “this for that,” is a form of sexual harassment because it occurs when a job benefit is specifically conditioned on an employee performing an unwelcome or unwanted sexual act, or submitting to an unwelcome sexual advance of some kind.

If you were asked to “dress sexy” by your boss, and your job, a promotion, or some other job benefit depended on your fulfilling that, then the request would be an example of quid pro quo sexual harassment. You should pursue the legal avenues available to you as part of your response to this sort of sexual harassment, including contacting your company’s HR department, notifying the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), etc.

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Hostile Work Environment

Hostile work environment is different from quid pro quo sexual harassment. A court will only find a hostile work environment exists in situations where an employee was subjected to a pattern or series of unwanted sexual behaviors – often by people other than the employee’s direct boss. Were you asked to “dress sexy,” then complained to your boss, but then saw nothing was done to correct the situation? Did the situation even get worse over time? If so, this may be considered a hostile work environment and you may have a sexual harassment case against your boss. 

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