Many times we think of sexual harassment as ‘quid pro quo’ (this for that) between a supervisor and employee. However, other forms of sexual harassment can involve coworkers and third-parties and are just as serious for an employer to address. Here are a couple scenarios to illustrate how third-parties can affect employees and create a hostile work environment:
Scenario 1: A financial institution teller has a customer who conducts business weekly at her branch, and insists on only her helping him. He lingers at her teller window beyond the time it takes to take care of business. He always makes small talk that becomes too personal and that makes her uncomfortable. His conversations escalate to him asking her repeatedly to meet him outside of work time. The teller finds his conversations inappropriate and is upset when he won’t take “no” for an answer. She now hides in the back room and another employee waits on him as he asks her whereabouts.
Scenario 2: A retailer has a business relationship with an independent contractor. The contractor is in and out of the business daily and talks to various individuals in the course of business. However, the contractor uses foul and slang terminology when referring to African-American female employees, even in their presence and brings one employee to tears. He discusses openly his sexual liaisons. Over time, the employee develops depression and anxiety. She has reported his behavior to management and she has told him directly she doesn’t want him speaking offensively around her.
Now, the question: Is an employer liable for a third-party harasser (a customer or independent contractor)? And, the answer: Yes, IF the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to address it and take action.
No doubt as a conscientious employer you have a competent anti-harassment policy in place, including a complaint process and a thorough investigative action plan. If you do – - kudos to you! If you don’t – - please contact HRN and we will help you with your policy!
Source: Meyer, Eric B. “What Do You Do When Your Contractor Is a Sexual Harasser?”
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