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Effective Employment Practices Include Addressing Third-Party Conduct


Effective Employment Practices Include Addressing Third-Party ConductRecent EEOC Settlement Reinforces Employers’ Responsibility to Protect Employees from Third-Party Harassment

Your company implements Best Practices with ongoing training as part of your HR policy in an effort to foster a culture of inclusion and mitigate risk regarding discrimination, sexual harassment and other employment practices that could result in allegations that land you in court. But it’s not only your employees’ conduct that you need to consider, particularly when it comes to sexual harassment. As an employer, you could be held responsible for the conduct of third parties, such as clients, vendors, patients and customers. This is especially true if you become aware of the conduct and don’t take the necessary measures to prevent it from occurring.

In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently settled a sexual harassment case for $30,000 against Southwest Virginia Community Health System. The EEOC lawsuit alleged that a male patient sexually harassed a female receptionist at one of the company’s clinics. The complaint indicated the employee complained to her supervisor about the sexual harassment, but the healthcare company did not take any actions to protect her from future harm.

The EEOC claimed that the employee’s rights were violated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it clear that employers are liable for harassment by non-employees if the employers know about the harassment and fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. In a statement about the settlement, Lynette Barnes, the EEOC’s regional attorney, said, “employers have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment not only by co-workers, but also by third parties, including patients and customers. Employers need to adopt measures to end sexual harassment that has been reported to the appropriate supervisor regardless of who is perpetrating the misconduct.”

Anti-Harassment Policies

As an employer, review your anti-harassment policies to ensure that employees are encouraged to report harassment from any source, including third parties, and that such reports be promptly and thoroughly investigated regardless of whether the alleged harasser is a company employee. Make sure that supervisors are aware that harassment by any non-employee is every bit as serious as harassment by employees.

In the event harassing conduct is brought to your attention, perform a serious and thorough investigation. Act immediately on the results of the investigation in such a way as is reasonably calculated to resolve the complaint. Also, the complainant should always be advised of at least the general action taken, and encouraged to report further misconduct. In addition, you should periodically and on your own accord, inquire of the complainant concerning any recurrence.

At Axis Insurance Services, LLC, we specialize in providing firms with Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI). An EPLI policy will help you with legal costs, damage awards and out-of-court settlements related to covered employment practices claims. Those can include allegations of sexual harassment, wrongful termination, discriminatory hiring, wage and hour disputes, and multiple types of workplace misconduct. To find out more about how we can help you, please give us a call at (877) 787-5258.

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Blogged on: January 7, 2014 by Mike Smith
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