Harassment Claims – Are You Responsible for Non-Employees?
As an owner or manager, you can’t control everything that happens at your business. If you’re in an environment where your employees are working from home during the pandemic, you may be even less aware of how employees are interacting with each other. You are, however, accountable for everything that happens at your business or related to your business. This is especially important to remember with regard to bullying and harassment claims. You are responsible for providing a harassment-free environment and protecting employees from bullying or harassing behavior, even when the conduct is outside of your control.
Examples of Harassment Claims Involving Non-Employees
Many states are enacting laws that greatly expand protection against harassment for both employees and non-employees. Take a look at a few harassment examples you may not have realized would be your responsibility as a business leader.
#1 – Your business brings on an unpaid intern to help complete a project. Some women in the office tease the intern about his good looks, ask him about his sex life, and in general make him feel very uncomfortable. He’s not your employee, but you are responsible for the workplace environment and therefore liable for this type of harassment. States laws in California, New York, Delaware, Illinois, and many more specifically protect interns and independent contractors from harassment.
#2 – You own a restaurant and one of your bartenders has a regular customer who is getting too personal with her. He’s a big spender and a great tipper, but she is beginning to feel threatened by his advances. You can’t control the behavior of your customers, but you are responsible for protecting your employees from harassment by anyone.
#3 – You run a convenience store and one of your vendors is a transgender man who was harshly bullied by a regular customer while checking in an order. Neither the victim nor the harasser are your employees in this case, but you are responsible for incidents that happen in your store and have an obligation to stop any harassing behavior.
#4 – One of your employees shared their personal cell number with a client. After work hours, the client has repeatedly asked your employee to send inappropriate pictures of themselves. This harassment is not happening at work or on a company-owned device, but you are still responsible for any interaction that occurs between an employee and a business-related associate.
#5 – During a group video meeting, you notice that two employees seem amused by something not obvious to the group. After questioning them, you learn that they were independently texting each other derogatorily comments about the appearance of others in the video meeting. They used their personal devices and the subjects of their comments were not aware of the situation. In this situation, you have an obligation to protect all your employees by stopping the bullying behavior before it becomes a bigger problem.
While you may be limited in what you can do to prevent harassment claims involving non-employees, you can be prepared to handle them. Just like any type of harassment issues, you must listen to the claim and take immediate action. Your reaction to reports of harassment is critical to both stopping the behavior from happening again and limiting your personal and professional liability.
At RTO, we’re committed to helping you create and maintain a respectful workplace while complying with federal and state laws. Our harassment prevention training program uses real-world examples to teach employees how to recognize harassment and help prevent it. State-specific sexual harassment prevention training is also available for clients in New York, California, Delaware, and Illinois. These courses cover the training requirements mandated in each state. Click here for a preview.