It should be obvious to all employers that sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited. Most employers also understand their obligation to discipline employees who engage in harassing behavior in the workplace. But what about the non-employee harasser? Many companies are not self-sustaining—they rely on customers, vendors, outside sales persons and other non-employees to drive their business. You, as the employer, cannot control their actions. Even so, do you have the responsibility to protect your employees?
Possibly. The federal regulations suggest that in some limited circumstances employers may be liable for sexual harassment by a customer. If the employer knows or should have known of the conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action an employer may be liable for the non-employee’s actions. Once an employer knows or should have known of the harassment, it has an obligation to take all reasonable steps to protect its employee.
As always, have a policy in place which prohibits discrimination by non-employees. Make supervisors aware that the company has a responsibility to protect its employees from harassment by non-employees. Take prompt action to investigate an employee’s complaints. Discuss with the employee the findings of the investigation and steps to prevent the harassment from continuing.
Photo on flickr by DOS82