You must protect employees from sex harassment … by customers

Everyone knows that businesses can be sued for sex harassment if an employee or manager harasses another employee. But did you know that you can also be sued if the harasser doesn’t work for you – if the harasser is a customer, contractor, or other person connected to the business?

That might not seem fair, since you have no control over a customer’s actions. But you still have a duty to provide a way for employees to complain, to investigate accusations, and to take reasonable steps to stop any harassment to the extent possible.

In one recent case, a graduate student who worked as a manager for the Hofstra University football team sued the university, claiming she had been harassed by some of the football players.

Of course, Hofstra didn’t “employ” the football players, but it still had a duty to remedy the situation.

A federal appeals court decided that Hofstra had fulfilled its duty, because it stopped the behavior, kicked one of the offending players off the team, and required the entire athletics department to have sex harassment training.

However, the court said Hofstra could still be on the hook for “retaliation,” because it replaced the student as team manager the following semester.