As an employer, your employees should be a top priority in the creation of a productive environment. Ensuring that all employees feel like they are operating in a safe place, including efforts to prevent and eliminate workplace harassment, helps to ensure this productivity. If your employees are experiencing harassment from outside vendors, this not only contributes to an unsafe and hostile work environment, but also places responsibility squarely on your shoulders for addressing the issue.
In its April decision on Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp., the United States 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employers can be held liable for workplace harassment perpetrated by a third party. This holds that it is the employer’s responsibility to take action to prevent or adequately address harassment of any kind directed toward employees by outside vendors, contractors, etc.
The case covered plaintiff Lori Freeman, who sought assistance from her employer, Dal-Tile Corp., after being repeatedly subjected to racial and sexual harassment from Timothy Koester, a customer’s independent sales representative. After futile attempts to resolve the situation with Dal-Tile’s HR department, Freeman resigned her position and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging a hostile work environment created by her former employer, along with constructive discharge.
What can you as an employer do to protect yourself and your employees from similar issues?
- Be sure to have a comprehensive handbook in place with a policy against harassment. Language should be clear that harassment of any nature will not be tolerated, and that employees should immediately report harassment to their supervisor or HR.
- Adopt a streamlined reporting procedure and take immediate action to address and investigate complaints. Immediate corrective actions should be taken if the investigation uncovers that harassment has occurred. Confidentiality must be maintained to the extent practical.
- Employees cannot be retaliated against for reporting harassment nor for participating in the investigation.
For more information on this or any other employment law issue, please contact Christine Mayhew and the attorneys of Anderson Jones, PLLC at (919) 277-2541 or by email.