Employers need to understand that they are responsible not just for maintaining a workplace where employees do not suffer harassment by other employees, but by anyone, including customers. Such harassment is referred to as third party harassment and can result in significant liability for employers. The EEOC recently sued Costco for just this – a male customer was stalking a female employee. According to the EEOC, the employer told the woman to be “friendly” to the customer. That is not at all consistent with the employer’s obligation to maintain a harassment free workplace. So what should an employer do when confronted with potential third party harassment? Take necessary steps to stop the harassment. This could include banning the customer from the premises. It could include reassigning duties so the employee does not have to deal with the customer. It could entail cooperating with police in obtaining a restraining order for the employee. But what the employer cannot do is not take some kind of remedial action.
This is the kind of not-always-intuitive legal concept that managers should be trained on.