An employer can be held responsible for harassment of a worker by someone who doesn’t work for them, such as a customer. This is sometimes called ‘third-party harassment’.
The employer will become legally responsible if they know that their worker has been harassed by someone who does not work for them at least twice before but they have failed to take appropriate action to protect the worker from further harassment.
It does not have to be the same person harassing the worker on each occasion.
An employer is aware that a female bar worker has been sexually harassed on two separate occasions by two different customers. Once the employer has been told or has found out about the first two occasions, they will be liable for a third act of harassment towards the same bar worker, if they have failed to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent further harassment. This will be the case even if the third act of harassment is committed by an unconnected customer.
What can your employer do about third-party harassment?
Your employer could wait until you have complained of third-party harassment twice before taking action to prevent it. But it would be good practice not to wait for this. It also makes them less at risk of a complaint that they have not done enough to protect you.
Steps your employer could take include:
- making sure that any visitors, clients, suppliers or customers who come into contact with your workers or job applicants are also aware of the harassment policy and behave in line with it, for example, using signs in your reception area about acceptable and unacceptable behaviour
- speaking to the person who has harassed you to tell them their behaviour was not acceptable. In some cases, it may be appropriate for your employer to stop the person visiting their premises to make sure you are protected
- including a term in all contracts with third parties notifying them of the employer’s policy on harassment and requiring them to adhere to it
- encouraging workers to report any acts of harassment by third parties and taking action on every reported complaint
- putting notification of unacceptable behaviour on their website, on computer ‘pop up’ messages, on any plasma screens in their workplace
- including information regarding protection from third-party harassment and the complaints procedure in the induction training for new staff, in any staff handbook or information available to service users
- including information on protection from third-party harassment in any training for key stakeholders
- amending their harassment policies to notify staff of the protection from third-party harassment and what forms it could take
- speaking to frontline staff, particularly those most at risk such as reception, to check that the protection and complaints procedure is known and whether they have any ideas about how to improve awareness of the policy