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Understanding Third-Party Sexual Harassment

While many people are aware that they are protected against sexual harassment by coworkers, supervisors and employers, many may not realize that they also have rights when it comes to third-party sexual harassment. As with other cases, third parties are not free to touch, make explicit suggestions or engage in any other behavior that is considered harassment under the law. This is true whether the harassment takes place in the workplace or when you are representing your employer as part of your duties off-premises. Third parties might include customers, vendors, repair persons and others, and under California and federal law your employer must take steps to deal with sexual harassment committed by these parties.

Employer Responsibilities

Employer responsibilities as they pertain to sexual harassment are regulated by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Both require that in cases of third party harassment, your employer may be held liable if they knew about or should have known about the harassment and fail to take immediate actions to correct the behavior. Once your employer is aware of the situation, they should investigate the incident and treat it as if the person who harassed you was an employee of the company. They should do this regardless of how it affects their business, for example an employer cannot simply dismiss your complaint because it could cost them an important client. As with other cases, third party sexual harassment laws protect you whether you are an employee, an employee in training, a job applicant, or an intern.

What You Should Do

If you are sexually harassed by a third party in connection with your job, notify your supervisor or appropriate HR contact immediately. This is extremely important, as it puts your employer on notice that the behavior occurred, and gives them a chance to take corrective actions. Remember that you do not have to be on your work premises in order to be a victim of sexual harassment. If you travel for your job, or visit other businesses regularly as part of your duties, you are protected by third party harassment laws while you are discharging your job duties on those trips.

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