A sales assistant goes into the office of the dealership’s general manager. She claims she is being sexually harassed by one of the outside vehicle wholesalers with whom the company does business. She says that he is making ugly sexual references, touching her and asking her out. The GM is sympathetic, but he claims there is not much he can really do. He says that the company cannot try to control harassment by outsiders and that the company cannot be responsible for people who do not work for it.
While the GM’s reaction may not be unusual, it is wrong and can likely lead to serious liability for the dealership. Recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit (that covers Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia) joined a trend of a number of federal courts in holding that a company that knows of sexual harassment of an employee by a nonemployee and does nothing can be held liable.
Train your managers to handle claims of third party harassment.
- Train managers to know that your company’s policy against harassment includes actions by non-employees reported to them or of which they become aware.
- If your anti-harassment policy is not broad enough to cover third-party harassment, amend it.
- Make sure that employees know your anti-harassment policy covers third party harassment and actions by employees. Be sure they understand that management wishes to hear of complaints or concerns, and it is prepared to take action on any claim of harassment. The company is committed to a harassment-free workplace.
- Treat instances of potential third-party harassment as seriously as a claim of employee on employee harassment. Express sympathy but do not jump to conclusions, investigate, take action if necessary, and report results to the person who claimed to have been subjected to the actions.