Most employers understand the significant consequences of sexual harassment at the workplace and take proactive measures to train employees about proper conduct. However, liability is not limited to the conduct of employees. Employers also have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment by third parties such as clients, vendors, patients, and customers, when the employer knows about the conduct and fails to take any corrective action. Although third-party harassment is reportedly just as common, many employers do not take appropriate steps to prevent it.
This lesson was made clear earlier this year to a Virginia healthcare company, which agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a sexual harassment suit filed by the EEOC—the agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC alleged that a female receptionist was sexually harassed by a male patient. The complaint further alleged that when the employee informed her supervisor about the harassment, the company did not take any action to prevent future harassment. Because the employer allowed the harassment to continue, the EEOC alleged that it had violated Title VII and was required to pay monetary damages to the employee.
Professionals and other employers can take steps to limit liability by adopting procedures for reporting all forms of sexual harassment and taking necessary measures to end the harassment, regardless of who is perpetrating the misconduct.