What Do You Do When Your Contractor Is a Sexual Harasser?

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May 6, 2014

By Eric B. Meyer

Generally, a typical sexual harassment claim involves a supervisor or manager or co-worker making unwelcome sexual advances towards another employee.

But what if, instead of the harasser being one of your employees, it’s an independent contractor.

Does that absolve your company from liability? Is it a valid defense if one of your employees sues you for sexual harassment to point the finger outside of the company?

Employers can’t avoid liability

Yeah, well, if you knew about the harassment, and did nothing about it, then probably not.

Consider this recent decision from the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, which serves as a reminder for employers that they cannot avoid liability for third-party harassment by adopting a “see no evil, hear no evil strategy.”

What this means is that an employer will be responsible for a hostile work environment a third-party (e.g., an independent contractor) creates if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed “to take prompt remedial action reasonably calculated to end the harassment.”

It’s basically the same standard as would apply if the harasser was your own supervisor or manager

So, please do not tolerate offensive third-party conduct in your workplace. And encourage your employees to report it, so that it may be addressed promptly.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.