Employer not liable for employee harassment of non-employee

Pennsylvania employees know sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue. It is illegal for employees to be sexually harassed by an employer under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, or PHRA. However, a court recently ruled that an employer is not responsible for an employee who harasses an individual away from the employer's place of work.

Details of the recent ruling

A Pennsylvania woman says she experienced sexual harassment after going to a local police department to pick up a document. She claims that the officer who helped her later began sexually harassing her. According to the victim, the officer phoned her frequently, made inappropriate requests and even came to her home.

The victim notified the police department of the harassment, but after the officer was appointed head of his own investigation, she sued under the PHRA. Unfortunately, because she is not an employee of the particular borough, she does not receive the protections of the PHRA.

The focus of the PHRA is on the employment relationship. This means that employees are shielded from harassment by customers or clients. Additionally, the PHRA protects employees who are sent to work at different locations from harassment by other employees. However, it does not protect non-employees from harassment by employees.

Rights of victims who are sexually harassed in the workplace

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The following actions are considered sexual harassment when they happen to an employee against his or her will:

  • Unsolicited and unwanted sexual advances
  • Inappropriate sexual requests
  • Other verbal or physical harassment that includes sexual innuendo

Employees experiencing sexual harassment should report the harassment to their employer as soon as possible. The employer must take every sexual harassment claim seriously.

The employer is required to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of the incident. The human resources department should be involved in all stages of the investigation. Employers have a duty to demonstrate that they not only took immediate action, but also that the punishment for the offender is strict and appropriate.

Sexual harassment can create a hostile work environment both during and after the harassment. An employer is responsible for creating a non-hostile work environment for victims of sexual harassment.

People who can contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment include co-workers as well as those involved in the actual harassment. Employees who are not the direct target of the sexual harassment are also potential victims. Co-workers who learn about or observe the harassment may also bring sexual harassment charges.

Finally, after the investigation is complete and the offender is properly punished, an employer cannot retaliate against the employee who brought the sexual harassment charge. The employer must treat the victim of harassment the same as all other employees. The victim must also not be treated differently than before bringing the charges.

An individual experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace can benefit from speaking to an experienced sexual harassment attorney. The attorney can provide guidance and compassion and help determine the best way to handle the situation.