April 23, 2024
Contract Law
Employment Law

The expression ‘quid pro quo’ carries significant importance, embodying the essence of the reciprocal exchange. In the legal context, it serves as a fundamental principle across various fields, ranging from contract law to criminal law. It is crucial in legal contracts to ensure that there is consideration from both parties. Without it, contracts may not be enforceable. In business context, it ensures that both parties in business transactions receive fair compensation for what they contribute. For example, in a merger or acquisition, each party anticipates gaining something valuable from the transaction. 

In both business and legal contexts, understanding and appropriately applying the concept of quid pro quo is essential for maintaining fairness, legality, and ethical standards in transactions, agreements and relationships. 

What is the meaning of this Latin phrase?

The phrase quid pro quo means ‘something for something’ which simply means ‘I will do this for you and then you do this for me’. It encapsulates the notion of an exchange of goods and services. This Latin phrase has been used for centuries, with its roots deeply embedded in Roman law and culture. 

In ancient Rome, the concept of quid pro quo was fundamental in legal and social interactions. It was closely tied to the principles of contractual agreements, reciprocity, and exchange. The Romans believed in the importance of fair exchanges and reciprocal obligations in various aspects of life, including business, politics, and personal relationships. 

Roman law recognised the importance of mutual consent and consideration in agreements. It formed the basis of contractual agreements, where both parties were expected to provide something of value in exchange for something else. This principle ensured that contracts were binding and enforceable under Roman law. 

Understanding Quid Pro Quo

At its core, it represents a mutual agreement or understanding in which  one party provides something of value in exchange for something else. This reciprocal arrangement is the foundation of contractual relationships. In contractual matters, quid pro quo ensures fairness and balance, preventing unjust enrichment or exploitation of parties involved.

Contract Law. In contract law, quid pro quo is a fundamental principle that governs the legitimacy and enforceability of contracts. For a contract to be legally binding, there must be an exchange of consideration. This consideration often takes the form of goods, services, money, or promises to perform certain actions.

In the UK, courts scrutinise contracts to ensure that the quid pro quo element is present and that both parties have provided something of value. Failure to establish its presence renders a contract voidable or unenforceable since it lacks the essential element of mutual obligation. Therefore, every individual or business should know what is expected of parties to enter into a contract.

Employment Law. In employment law, quid pro quo plays a vital role in safeguarding the rights and interests of employees. Employers are required to provide fair compensation, safe working conditions, and equitable treatment in exchange for the work performed by their employees.

Negative Perception of Quid Pro Quo

While it initially represented fairness and reciprocity, its reputation has diminished in recent decades due to negative connotations. It is vulnerable to misuse and abuse across various spheres, posing significant ethical and legal challenges, such as: 

Unfair Contractual Arrangements. In contractual relationships, parties may seek to exploit power imbalances or weaknesses to enforce unfair quid pro quo arrangement. This may include coercive tactics, unfair terms, or employing deceptive practices to gain disproportionate benefits at the expense of the other party.

Quid Pro Quo Harassment. In employment law, quid pro quo harassment in a workplace occurs when a person in a position of authority demands sexual favours or other benefits in exchange for job perks, such as promotions or salary increases. This is a form of discrimination, and it is prohibited by law. Such conduct is actionable under the Equality Act 2010, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, emphasising the importance of upholding ethical standards in the workplace.

Bribery and Corruption. Quid pro quo assumes a darker connotation in the domain of criminal law, especially in the context of bribery, corruption, and undue influence. Bribery involves offering or receiving something valuable with the intent to influence the actions and decisions of an individual in a position of power or authority.

In the UK, legislation such as the Bribery Act 2010 aims to combat corrupt practices and uphold the integrity of public and private institutions. Quid pro quo arrangements that involve bribery undermine the rule of law, diminish public trust, and may lead to significant legal penalties, including criminal charges and imprisonment.

What are the examples of quid pro quo?

Legal Example. Two parties, a contractor and a homeowner, enter into a contract for home renovation services. The homeowner agrees to pay the contractor a specified amount in exchange for the renovation work. Both parties benefit from the exchange, and it represents a lawful quid pro quo agreement.

Illegal Example. A supervisor promises an employee a promotion in exchange for sexual favours. This constitutes quid pro quo sexual harassment, as the supervisor is conditioning job benefits on the employee’s submission to unwelcome sexual advances. Such behaviour is illegal under employment laws and constitutes a violation of the victim’s rights.


The phrase quid pro quo continues to hold significant relevance in modern society, particularly in legal, business, and ethical contexts. As we have explored throughout this article, quid pro quo represents the fundamental principle of reciprocity, where one party provides something in exchange for another’s action, favour, or benefit. 

While a quid pro quo exchange is often necessary and lawful in contractual agreements and everyday interactions, it is crucial to recognise the line between legal and illegal manifestations. Legal quid pro quo involves fair and voluntary exchanges that uphold ethical standards and respect the rights of all parties involved. However, illegal quid pro quo, such as bribery, sexual harassment, and political corruption, undermines integrity, fairness, and trust in institutions. 

Understanding the implications of this concept is essential for navigating the business world, legal agreements, and interpersonal relationships ethically and responsibly. By upholding the principles of fairness, reciprocity, and integrity, we can foster environments built on trust, cooperation, and mutual benefit, ensuring that quid pro quo serves as a force for positive exchange and not exploitation or injustice.

At EM Law, we are experts in both contract law and employment law. If you have any questions about quid pro quo harassment in your workplace, please do not hesitate to contact our Marc Jones or Imogen Finnegan. If you need help with quid pro quo in your contractual relationships or contracts more generally, do not hesitate to reach out to our Neil Williamson or Colin Lambertus or contact us here.