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Non-Employee Sexual Harassment

Non-employee sexual harassment occurs when a person who is not employed by the company harasses an employee, including a customer, vendor, client, or someone else who may frequent a company’s premises. Despite their status as non-employees, these individuals can still act in an unprofessional manner toward colleagues by saying inappropriate comments or generally mistreating others.

Even though an employer may not have authority over these non-employees, they are still liable for any sexual harassment suffered by their employees regardless of who instigates it. Employers owe it to their employees to provide a safe work environment so they can be as productive as possible.

Victims of sexual harassment by a non-employee should report the incident to their supervisor or their human resources (HR) department. If they are struggling with how to handle the situation, reach out to a sexual harassment lawyer who can let them know if they have a case and how to deal with the issue.

Who is Considered a Non-Employee?

Anyone who is not employed by the employer is considered a non-employee. These types of individuals can include the following:

  • Customers: These people are patronizing a business such as those at a restaurant or a retail store.
  • Clients: These are those who will hire the company for a type of business. This could be a public relations firm or accounting firm.
  • Independent contractors: These individuals are self-employed but are performing a service for the company.
  • Consultants or contractors: They work for an outside agency and could be temps or consultants who are performing a service for the company.
  • Facilities or maintenance staff: These are individuals hired to perform maintenance or cleaning services around the office.

Even though these individuals are not employed by the company, that does not give them a free pass for poor behavior. In most instances, they are far easier to deal with than an employee. For the most part, these non-employees can easily be dismissed or removed from the facilities.

What are Examples of Non-Employee Harassment?

There are a few examples of non-employee sexual harassment that has occurred and can take place around a business. It happens in a variety of forms but should never be tolerated. A few examples include the following scenarios:

  • A waitress is working her shift at a restaurant when a group of customers begin to make sexual comments to her. In one instance, one of the customers slaps her on her behind. She complains to her manager, who lets her take a break and assigns another waiter to that table, costing the waitress the tip, and not directly addressing the issue at hand.
  • A copy machine repairman is in an office making repairs to a machine when he spots an attractive female employee walking by. He chases after her and corners her in the breakroom, suggesting they go out for a drink sometime. He gets rather aggressive and rubs himself up against the employee.
  • A man works in an office where a female letter carrier comes in daily and makes inappropriate comments to him, making him uncomfortable. Despite multiple attempts to tell her to stop, she persistently makes comments showing him inappropriate pictures or inappropriate jokes.

It is also possible for a person to be victimized by sexual harassment online. There are instances in which a person will communicate with clients, customers, and vendors via video conference call or email. During these communications, it is possible for the non-employee to cross a line and to make sexual comments or send inappropriate photos against the victim’s wishes.

Can My Employer be Held Liable for Non-Employee Sexual Harassment?

Numerous courts have held that even though an employer might not have authority over a non-employee, the employer can still be held liable for the actions of a non-employee, especially if they negatively impact an employee.

When informed that an employee is being sexually harassed, an employer is legally obligated to stop the harassment regardless of the source. They must maintain a safe and open workplace, and that includes preventing non-employees from harassing workers. The obligation to maintain a safe and healthy work environment extends to the CEO, supervisors, and managers. If they fail to establish this environment or ignore any complaints about sexual harassment, they are breaking the law.

As is the case when sexual harassment takes place between two employees, an employer can not terminate an employee because they reported a case of sexual harassment. If they do, that person can he held liable for additional damages inflicted on the victim due to retaliation.

An employer can be held liable for non-employee sexual harassment for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • If the harassment created a hostile work environment.
  • The victim reported the harassment, and no corrective measures were taken.
  • The employee was unable to report the harassment because there was no effective means by which to file a harassment complaint.
  • An employer should have known about the harassment and took no corrective measures.

An employee also has the right to report any claim to an outside government agency or to consider filing a lawsuit. A sexual harassment lawyer can provide advice on how best to proceed.

What can an Employer Do to Lower the Risk of Sexual Harassment?

Given the legal obligations that employers have to ensure that their employees are working in a safe environment, there are several steps they can take to limit the risk that employees will be victims of sexual harassment.

  • Review and update: Employers should examine and, if necessary, update the company’s anti-harassment policy. It should clearly state that the company prohibits non-employee third-party harassment. It should also require that such harassment be immediately reported and provide a framework for how that should happen.
  • Educate: Employers should educate and train their supervisors to detect third-party sexual harassment. 
  • Investigate: When any report of sexual harassment from a non-employee is filed, the company should thoroughly investigate the matter. There might be temporary action required to prevent further harassment or retaliation from taking place. Once a claim has been substantiated, immediate and remedial action needs to be taken against the harasser to prevent any additional harassment from taking place. One option might be to ban the third party from the facility, meaning that person’s supervisor will have to be informed.
  • Contact a lawyer: To verify that the company is doing all that it can to protect its employees and avoid any liability, the company’s lawyers should be contacted to review the company’s harassment policies, guidelines, and training. In addition, the lawyer should be involved once a complaint has been filed.

By acting ahead of time and putting proper procedures in place, employers will be able to reduce their liability risk should a non-employee sexual harassment incident occur.

What Options are Available if My Employer Fails to Act?

An employer may choose not to investigate or even act against a non-employee for a variety of reasons. However, regardless of the reason or the impact it could have on the company, an employer is obligated to fix the situation. If they fail to do so, the victim should file a grievance with their HR department.

Beyond that, there are other entities with which a victim can file a complaint. It is best to consult with a skilled sexual harassment lawyer to discuss which agency makes the most sense. At the federal level, a victim can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The statue of limitations on filing a claim with the EEOC is 180 days.

A victim cans also file a complaint at the state level. In Pennsylvania, that would be through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The statute of limitations of that agency is 300 days. In New Jersey, the relevant agency is the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights within the Office of the Attorney General, which has a two-year statute of limitations.

Can I Receive Compensation for a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit?

Employees may be entitled to monetary compensation for their lawsuit. It could include lost wages or potential medical expenses. They can also receive compensation for the emotional duress and pain and suffering they experienced because of the sexual harassment.

There are also non-financial results that a lawsuit can accomplish. A victim can request that changes take place at the company to ensure that the sexual harassment does not happen again. They can request that a particular non-employee be reassigned or similar changes. A sexual harassment lawyer can help determine what are reasonable requests.

Philadelphia Sexual Harassment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Protect Clients in Sexual Harassment Cases

If you are having a difficult time with a delivery person who will not leave you alone or rude and insensitive customers and your boss is not doing anything to help, you should consider other legal options. The Philadelphia sexual harassment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. will help you determine the best course of action and get you the results you deserve. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey, as well as in New York.

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