Many employees and even some employers think that businesses aren’t liable for employee sexual harassment when it occurs outside the workplace – and particularly when it’s not at a work-related event. That’s not the case.
Sexual harassment of one employee by another is prohibited wherever and whenever it occurs. That includes everything from a casual get-together for drinks at a bar down the street after work to an employee wedding on the weekend to inappropriate messages on your private social media pages.
Employees can and should report this harassment if they’re the victim or if they see someone else being victimized. Employers then have a responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.
Hostile work environments can arise from non-work encounters
The reason that this harassment is an employer’s responsibility is that even if it occurs outside of the setting, it follows the victim back to the workplace. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to work with someone – let alone for someone – who has harassed or even assaulted you.
If the harasser is someone in authority – even if the victim doesn’t directly report to them – they could potentially take action to distance themselves from the victim. Alternatively, if they work closely with their victim, that person could feel uncomfortable and even unsafe. That’s considered a hostile work environment.
They could also harm their victim’s job, if not their career, by not choosing them for important assignments or projects or, even worse, finding a reason to fire them or drive them out of the company. Further, if the harasser is someone in authority, their victim could find themselves being ignored when opportunities come along. Harassers can find a reason to terminate their victims or make their life so miserable that they’ll want to leave.
If you’ve suffered sexual harassment or assault by a co-worker or manager, no matter where, when or under what circumstances it occurred, you have a right to report it and expect your report to be taken seriously. If your employer doesn’t deal with the matter appropriately or if you suffer any retaliation, it’s wise to find out what your legal options are.