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Is my employer liable for non-employee sexual harassment?

When your company takes on employees, it has the legal obligation to maintain a workplace that is free from harassment of all forms. This obligation remains intact for both employees and non-employees alike, and is applicable in situations where the harassment is sexual in nature.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexual advances, comments about a person’s sex, or requests for favors of a sexual nature. Whether these acts and comments come from a coworker, manager, other employee or a customer, your company is obligated to act swiftly to handle the situation in order to keep you from encountering a hostile work environment, within reason.

Unfortunately, your employer may not always be in control of a non-employee who is sexually harassing you. In these circumstances, they may not be held liable for the actions of that non-employee. For example, if a customer enters a restaurant and begins to make sexually suggestive comments to his waiter, the waiter must then disclose the incident to a superior with the ability to resolve the situation. Since the customer is physically at the business, the superior then has the obligation to ensure that the situation is addressed quickly, usually by asking that customer to leave the premises. This would fulfill their duty to the waiter to maintain a harassment-free work environment.

Conversely, if a customer enters a restaurant and later begins to harass his waiter outside of the workplace, such as at the gym or on the street, the restaurant may not be held liable for failing to address the situation, even if it is an ongoing occurrence. This information is for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as legal advice. 

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