Workplace sexual harassment remains a serious problem. According to a study cited by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, between 25 percent and 80 percent of women will endure sexual harassment on the job. A significant number of men experience workplace sexual harassment as well. It could be committed by a supervisor, co-worker, or even a customer.
This raises an important question: Can an employer be held liable if a client or customer is the perpetrator of sexual harassment? The answer is ‘yes’—but it will depend on what the employer did or did not do to stop the sexual harassment. Here, our Massachusetts sexual harassment lawyers provide a guide for employees who have been harassed by a client/customer.
State and Federal Laws Protect Employees Against Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
There are federal and state employment laws in place to protect employees against sexual harassment in the workplace. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is a form of prohibited sex-based discrimination. Title VII covers businesses and organizations that have at least fifteen (15) total employees. At the state level, the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act also bars sexual harassment as a form of sex-based discrimination. This statute applies to public and private employers with at least six total workers.
Employers Could Be Liable for Sexual Harassment By Customers and Clients
Under federal and state anti-discrimination laws, Massachusetts employers have a proactive responsibility to foster a workplace environment free from sexual harassment. That the sexual harassment in question was perpetrated by a client, customer, or other outside party is not a surefire defense against liability. An employer can be held legally liable for workplace sexual harassment even if the responsible party is not a supervisor or fellow employee. That being said, an employer in Massachusetts is not automatically liable for the bad actions of a client/customer. A number of different issues need to be addressed, including:
- What exactly the customer/client did to constitute sexual harassment;
- What policies the employer had in place, if any, to protect the employee against sexual harassment by customers; and
- How the employer—including supervisors and co-workers—responded when learning of a sexual harassment complaint.
The specific facts of the case always matter. If the employer put an employee at an unreasonable risk of customer/client sexual harassment and/or failed to take proper corrective action when an employee raised a complaint, that company may be legally liable. All workplace sexual harassment allegations require a comprehensive investigation from an experienced Massachusetts employment law attorney.
Get Help From a Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawyer in Massachusetts
At Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore, LLC, our Massachusetts sexual harassment lawyers are compassionate, experienced employee rights advocates. If you were subject to sexual harassment by a client/customer, we can help. Contact us now for a completely confidential case review. With offices in Springfield and Northampton, we represent employees in sexual harassment claims throughout Western Massachusetts, including in Holyoke, Easthampton, Amherst, and Belchertown.