HR Tip of the Month: Harassment: It’s Not Just Your Own Employees You Have To Worry About

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Most employers understand that they are legally obligated to promptly investigate an employee claim that he/she is being unlawfully harassed by a fellow employee or supervisor based upon some legally protected characteristic (e.g., gender, race, disability, national origin, etc.). Employers must remember, however, that they also are obligated to insure their employees are not subjected to unlawful harassment by third parties that interact with the employees such as clients, patients, vendors, suppliers, customers and independent contractors. It can be particularly problematic for employers where, for example, the employee makes a complaint of harassment against a significant client or someone who refers a significant amount of business to the employer. Although investigating such complaints may be uncomfortable, failure to do so may result in a harassment lawsuit claiming the employer ignored the employee complaint because it valued company profits above its obligation to provide its employees with a workplace free of unlawful harassment. It is not enough to have a written policy that prohibits harassment by third parties. Employers must insure that, in practice, they are actually following that policy.

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