Protecting Employees from Third Party Harassment

Author, Chase Hixson, Account Executive, Human Services Group, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.

Image of guy being bullied/talked about by people behind him.

The recent changes to California’s Anti-Harassment Training Requirements have prompted employers to take a closer look at their internal operations and how they can eliminate harassment from the workplace. A question that is frequently asked is “What happens if the harassment comes from someone other than one of my employees?” This is known as Third Party Harassment.

Third Party Harassment is when someone outside the organization harasses an employee. With a heavy focus on home care/home health care, third party harassment can arise between a nurse and an elderly client. In some cases, advances are made towards a nurse - further compounded in some cases by dementia or Alzheimer’s. Restaurants and bars are another common place where this type of harassment can occur when a patron or supplier harasses an employee. However, this type of harassment can occur in any industry where employees interact with people outside the organization. Several questions arise in these instances: As the employer, am I liable for third party harassment?  What can I do to address this? Can I insure against this type of harassment?

Is the employer liable for Third Party harassment claims?

The short answer is yes. An employer is responsible for creating and maintaining a harassment-free workplace for their employees. Failure to act on a third part harassment claim is not an option.

What can an employer do to address a potential situation?

If you become aware of an alleged act of harassment, act quickly. Engage the employee with sympathy. Not only will this show them that you care, but you need their input if you are going to maintain a safe work environment. Implement corrective actions immediately and ensure the employee will not be adversely affected. Investigate the incident through interviewing and evidence collection. Document all that was discovered and determine who is involved and what occurred. Depending on the seriousness of the incident(s), legal action may be necessary. In many cases, simply removing the employee from the situation and have a conversation with the alleged harasser is all it takes. For example, with the employee’s input, you may switch their schedule to work with a different client. If your employee is a sales representative, you might try switching accounts with another employee so they no longer need to work together.

If the harassment continues or is severe, you may need to stop doing business with the alleged harasser. While this might be difficult to do, the long term effects on employee morale and decreased likelihood of a harassment suit are worth it.

Does insurance cover these suits?

An Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) policy can cover against such claims, but only if it specifically includes “Third Party” in the wording. Some EPLI policies exclude or limit coverage. It is important when working with a broker that you clarify the coverage so you aware of what you are buying. 

Rancho Mesa Insurance clients have access to free online supervisor and employee Anti-Harassment training designed to educate the entire organization on the types of harassment, remedies, and the organization’s responsibilities.

If you have any questions, or any questions regarding California’s New Anti-Harassment Laws, please contact Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc. at (619) 937-0164.