Most United States employers understand that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires an employer to provide a workplace free of unlawful harassment and discrimination. Countries other than the U.S. have laws prohibiting workplace sexual discrimination and harassment. For instance, the Czech Republic prohibits undesirable behavior of a sexual nature at the workplace if such conduct is unwelcome, unsuitable or insulting; likewise the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 48/104 on the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women to include sexual harassment, which is prohibited at work (Art. 2(b)). In your country, do these types of definitions of illegal conduct apply to conduct by non-employees in your workplace? If so, are you as the employer required to take action against such conduct by customers or other workplace visitors?
In the U.S. the answers are: Yes. While employees and management of an employer are obviously covered by U.S anti-harassment laws, some employers may not be aware that this obligation extends beyond co-workers’ harassment to include customers’ mistreatment of employees. When a U.S. employer becomes aware of harassment on the basis of a legally protected characteristic (sex, disability, religion, race, color, etc.), the employer is required to take prompt remedial action to protect its employees – even if the harasser is a customer. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states, “Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision … The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.”
This mandate was enforced by Alaska Airlines in October when a flight crew removed a man from an aircraft for making harassing comments to an airline attendant during her pre-flight safety instructions. The incident was covered on social media and in the press – largely lauding Alaska Airlines for its prompt anti-harassment action. See, e.g., Fox News report Rowdy passenger removed from Alaska flight for harassing attendant. Alaska Airlines made a strong statement in favor of protecting employees, dissuading future conduct of this type, and preventing future litigation claims.
Call your Ally Law member firm employment law department to determine your obligations as to workplace discrimination and harassment under the laws and best practices in your country and jurisdiction. Defending against these claims is expensive and interruptive to business; assure you have policies and procedures in place to prevent them altogether. Ally Law member firms have employment and labor law departments that can advise you on the specifics in your jurisdiction. For more information about Ally Law member firm services and outstanding lawyers, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.