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Employer can be held responsible if a third-party harasses workers

Here in South Florida, most people know that sexual harassment is illegal. In the workplace, if an employee is being harassed by a co-worker or his or her boss, that employee should be able to put a stop to it by complaining to a person of authority, such as a supervisor, human resources department, or even police or employment law attorneys in some cases. However, many people do not realize that protections also exist to prevent workers from being harassed by third-parties in the workplace.

Depending on the place of employment, a third-party might be a customer, patient or construction worker, for example. When a worker is being harassed in the workplace by someone who is not an employee of that workplace, the workplace supervisor is still responsible to put a stop to the harassment. A case that is taking place in another state right now is an example of this.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a woman in Virginia who was working as a receptionist at a healthcare center was repeatedly sexually harassed by a patient in 2009 and 2010. The patient reportedly harassed the woman by making sexual comments and sexual requests in person and over the phone.

The woman complained to her supervisor about the harassment, but the employer still did nothing to stop it.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must take action to stop the sexual harassment of employees if they are notified of it. Whether the employee is being harassed by a fellow worker, a supervisor or a third-party, the employer is obligated by federal employment law to put a stop to it.

The EEOC has sued the healthcare company on behalf of the woman, and is asking for punitive and compensatory damages.

Here in Broward County and throughout the country, workers have the right to work in an environment free of sexual harassment. It is important that employers who fail to provide such workplace are held responsible.

Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Southwest Virginia Community Health System Sued for Sexual Harassment," Sept. 6, 2012

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