- 4TH Circuit Confirms Employer Liability for Third-Party Harassment
- July 18, 2014
- Law Firm: Kaufman Canoles A Professional Corporation - Norfolk Office
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (which governs federal courts in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland) recently confirmed that an employer can be liable for harassment of its employees by third parties (customer, vendor or other business invitee). Liability for such third-party harassment attaches when the harassment is severe and/or pervasive, the employer knew or should have known of the harassment, and the employer did not take prompt and appropriate steps to alleviate the harassment.
K&C’s Employment Team has been ahead of the curve in counseling its clients to avoid liability in this area. In fact, K&C Team member Scott Kezman foresaw this legal risk in a 1996 article he co-authored in HR Magazine (Harassment by nonemployees. Deadrick, Diana L.; Kezman, Scott W. // HR Magazine; Dec 1996, Vol. 41 Issue 12, p108).
Complaints about workplace harassment should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by objective parties. Certainly firing someone the same day she complains about unlawful conduct, for a made-up reason, is not appropriate, which is why the Appellate Court reversed the lower Court and allowed this case to proceed to trial.