Business leaders in the United States recently received a much-needed wakeup call in the form of the #MeToo movement, which brought widespread attention to the issue of sexual harassment and victimization in American workplaces. The issue is present across all industries and every strata of the American economy. It is essential for business leaders to know how to address sexual harassment incidents that arise within their workplaces. However, some business leaders may struggle to discern the appropriate course of action when it comes to sexual harassment issues that arise involving non-employees.

It is every business leader’s responsibility to ensure a workplace free of sexual harassment. This not only applies to interactions between employees, but also interactions between employees and business partners, vendors, service providers, and even customers.

Keep Track of Updated Laws

One of the most important ways business leaders can stay in front of sexual harassment issues involving employees and non-employees is to keep tabs on changes to employment laws in the country. Most of the sexual harassment litigation that takes place today refers to laws included in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, Title VII regulations do not apply to every employer in every industry.

Employers should remain vigilant for changes in the definitions of legal terms such as “employer,” “supervisor,” and similar terms at both the state and federal levels. It’s vital for business owners and high-level supervisors to fully understand these definitions so they can accurately grasp the full scope of their liability with certain workplace issues involving sexual harassment. These definitions may also come into play when addressing incidents involving non-employees.

Consistently Reevaluate Your Sexual Harassment Policies

When was the last time you updated your Code of Conduct or reviewed your sexual harassment policies? Depending on the type of business you operate, it’s possible that these documents also provide guidance that refers to interactions between employees and non-employees, such as policy for restaurant and bar staff to handle an unruly, inebriated customer. It might be worth revisiting these documents and looking for any gaps for addressing your employees’ rights and responsibilities when it comes to appropriate behavior and sexual harassment involving non-employees.

Never Rely on Assumptions

Handling sexual harassment complaints from your employees that indicate non-employees as responsible for the harassment can be difficult. In most situations, you will need to confer with the non-employee’s employer in the event the non-employee works for a vendor, service provider, or contractor doing business with your company.

If the situation involves a customer or client, banning the client from entering the company’s property or working with local law enforcement might be the preferable option. Consulting with an attorney may help shed light on the best available course of action when the non-employee sexually harassing a member of your team is not a direct employee of another company doing business with your own. Never assume the other party will take appropriate action; always follow up on any requests made for disciplinary action for sexual harassment to show your team that you take the problem seriously and are fully committed to putting a stop to the situation.

Don’t Provide Certain Non-Employees With Special Treatment

Imagine one of your employees comes to you to report sexual harassment from one of your company’s biggest account holders or highest purchasing customers. Even if this customer provides your company with millions in sales each year, allowing the harassment to continue unchecked or worse, attempting to “buy” your employee’s silence in the matter, will end up costing your company much more in the long run. Do not make exceptions just to keep a single customer happy. This sets a very negative precedent, diminishes your employees’ trust in you as a manager, and ultimately harms your brand.

Taking decisive corrective action against a non-employee is not without risk. At times, it may be necessary to maintain a safe and harmonious workplace. If you are unsure how to approach an incident of sexual harassment, an employment attorney could be a great resource for additional information and legal guidance. Contact the California Employment Council, APC if you need legal assistance handling a sexual harassment issue involving a non-employee in the Costa Mesa area. Our firm will help you determine your best available options.