Sexual harassment at work usually conjures up images of a man in a position of authority relentlessly ogling at a subordinate female. Or a group of colleagues creating a fraternity-like, sexually charged atmosphere leading to the discomfort of the rest of the office. In these types of situations, an employer may be responsible for the inappropriate conduct of its employees. An employer is obligated to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the office and put a stop to it when it does.
But have you ever received unwanted attention from someone who is not an employee, such as a customer or vendor? Has an important client made you feel uncomfortable by making comments about your body or getting too close? Does working with some third-parties mean you must tolerate lewd jokes, frequent hugging, and sexual innuendo?
According to a recent article in the New York Post, a study suggests that sexual harassment by clients and customers happens more frequently than many realize. It’s effects; the study concludes, “can be just as damaging” as when the harassment comes from a co-worker.
Luckily, an employer’s duty to prevent or remedy a hostile, sexually charged work environment exists regardless of who the harasser is. When the harasser is a third-party, an employer still has an obligation to remedy the situation. An employer may be liable for the sexual harassment of an employee by a third party when; it knows or should have known about it; and did not take immediate and appropriate remedial action.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is unlawful under both federal, state and city laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is the federal law that prohibits sexual harassment in the context of employment. (Sexual harassment is considered a form of sex or gender discrimination.)
New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) also make it unlawful to sexually harass someone in the workplace.
A third-party in the context of these laws is a person or entity that your business/employer has a relationship with but is not an employee. For instance, the independent contractor who performs regular maintenance in your office is a third party.
Sexual harassment by a third party is sexual harassment. Unlawful sexual harassment involves conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment. It may also result in an adverse employment action. A single request by a popular outside sales representative for a date or a client’s light touch during a business dinner is likely not an example of sexual harassment. A request for a date followed by a threat to tell your boss you are rude and incompetent might be. A client’s touch that turns into sexual assault might be as well.
Third-party sexual harassment may include the following scenarios:
If any of these situations sound familiar, you should notify your employer right away. Your company should investigate your story and take appropriate action if what you tell them is accurate. In the examples above, your employer might call the package delivery service to complain or speak to the customer and client directly about stopping the harassment.
It is important to know that your company can’t penalize you for being the victim of sexual harassment. The actions your employer takes to rectify sexual harassment cannot punish you. For example, if your best customer is harassing you, taking you off that account may be retaliatory if it causes you to sacrifice commissions. If you will lose income or receive a demotion, you may have a claim for retaliation in addition to sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in the context of employment violates the law when your employer knows or should know about it and fails to take appropriate steps to remedy it. This standard applies whether the harasser is an employee or a third party with a relationship with your employer. Having to tolerate sexual harassment should never be “part of the job.”
If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work by a third-party vendor, customer, client, or contractor, contact New York employment lawyers at Leeds Brown Law, P.C. For over 20 years, our firm has been helping victims of sexual harassment collect the compensation to which they are entitled. If you have been working in a hostile environment, call us for a free case evaluation. Someone is here to take your call 24/7 so call Leeds Brown now at 1-800-585-4658.
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