Q. An employee recently complained that one of our clients sexually harassed her. May we be held liable for the client’s action?
A. Under California law, an employer may be held responsible for the sexually harassing conduct of nonemployees toward employees, applicants or other persons providing services in the workplace.
Liability arises, however, only if the employer knew or should have known of the inappropriate conduct and failed to take corrective action.
The statute further cautions that a court should consider “the extent of the employer’s control and any other legal responsibility which the employer may have with respect to the conduct of those nonemployees” in deciding whether to hold an employer liable for the conduct of a nonemployee.
Thus, employers should ensure that their harassment policies communicate to workers that the company will not tolerate customer harassment. Employers must act quickly if employees report customer harassment. Supervisors should be trained to respond to employee complaints and to be especially vigilant if the workplace conditions increase the possibility of harassment.
After learning of the alleged harassment and conducting an investigation, the employer must choose the proper remedial action. This may include confronting the client, suspending or terminating the relationship or transferring the complaining employee. If the employer transfers the worker, it must do so in a manner that will not be construed as punishing him or her for filing the complaint.
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