It can be frustrating to know that you’ve done your best to instill a no-nonsense attitude in the workplace when it comes to sexual harassment and still realize that some people bring that kind of boorish (and illegal) behavior through your door.
Yet, it happens all the time. You may have a client that you know you don’t trust around the younger women in the office after he’s had a three-martini lunch, or you may have heard that a certain IT guy is very “handsy” when he thinks nobody is around.
What can you do? Well, anything but turn a blind eye – because your company can be held liable for the acts on non-employees (including customers or clients) when they sexually harass your workers and you don’t respond appropriately.
Are there any defenses to a claim that you failed to protect your employees?
Generally speaking, your company bears all the liability for the actions of anybody on its property so long as you knew (or reasonably should have known) what was happening and you didn’t have a swift and “appropriate” corrective action.
In practice, that means you may need to do things like:
- Restrict your client to electronic communications only or fire them from your practice
- Ask the IT company to send a different contractor
- Make any independent contractors aware of the company policy on sexual harassment
- Bar customers from your establishment the minute that they harass a server
- Make it clear to temporary workers what the company policies say
- Make certain that the cleaning crew or maintenance staff also understand the policies
You may also have to occasionally police electronic communications if a non-employee (whether that’s another business associate or a client) takes advantage of the opportunity to sexually harass an employee online through emails with suggestive photos, text messages asking for dates and so on.
In short, you have to be as proactive about stopping sexual harassment the moment it starts (or before) as you must be about being responsive to complaints.
Despite your best efforts, your business may one day face a sexual harassment claim. If that happens, make sure that you have the appropriate legal guidance to protect your future.