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Is an employer responsible for third-party harassment?

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires your employer in Pennsylvania to provide you with a work environment that is free of sexual harassment. You should never feel that performing your job is hostile or intimidating because of unwanted sexual verbal or physical contact, other sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Your employer is responsible for creating policies and procedures to prevent sexual harassment from a supervisor, employee or a customer or client, and could be held liable in some cases.

If you have been a victim of unwanted sexual advances, you have a responsibility to address the issue as soon as it arises through the company’s complaint process. In a sexual harassment case that went before the U.S. Court of Appeals, the employer was not held liable because the plaintiff did not offer the information about the actionable harassment in a timely manner, even though the behavior had been occurring for months. When the employee told her employer she was uncomfortable with the lewd comments she had been subjected to by a third party who had a business relationship with her employer, the company did intervene. The court ruled, therefore, that the employer was not responsible for any misconduct that occurred prior to her complaint.

According to the EEOC Enforcement Guidance, your employer’s sexual harassment policy and procedures for filing a complaint must be effective to prevent vicarious liability. You should receive a copy of these directions that are written in clear language and provide definitions of prohibited behaviors, as well as a description of the complaint process. Your employer must also provide for confidentiality as much as possible while investigating your claim. This information about sexual harassment should not be taken as legal advice. It has been provided for educational purposes only to help you understand your rights and responsibilities in the workplace.