Sexual Harassment Claims May Arise from the Conduct of Non-Employees

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Employers generally are familiar with laws that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Most employers establish and enforce policies prohibiting sexual harassment by co-workers and supervisors, investigate claims of harassment by employees, and impose disciplinary action on employees if they violate the employer’s sexual harassment policy. The enforcement of such policies helps employers avoid liability for sexual harassment claims based on employee misconduct, but employers should also be mindful of the conduct of third parties in the workplace. Failing to respond to sexual harassment complaints about the behavior of third parties could result in exposure to sexual harassment claims just as surely as unanswered complaints about employee misconduct, as demonstrated by a lawsuit recently filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a home health care business.

In EEOC v. Beacon Hill Investments Corp., the Commission brought suit on behalf of a class of female home health care workers who were assigned to work in the home of one of the employer’s male patients. The male patient allegedly made inappropriate sexual contact with the female employees, made suggestive comments to them on a daily basis, and accosted them while they slept in his home. The female employees allege they complained to their employer but no action was taken in response to their complaints. Ultimately, the employees felt they had no recourse but to resign due to the treatment they received at the hands of the male patient. The Commission’s lawsuit followed.

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