Girl being victim of sexual harassment at workplace

Sexually Harassed by a Client But Employer Won’t Take Action

Chris Sanders Law PLLC Aug. 29, 2022

When the term sexual harassment in the workplace is mentioned, most people probably imagine that it entails a supervisor trying to take advantage of an employee, or a coworker “hitting on” another coworker for sexual favors. While these scenarios do happen, there are times when sexual harassment comes from other places. It’s possible you, a friend, or coworkers wonder what steps can be taken if the sexual harassment comes from a client, a vendor, or a customer. Do the same laws still apply?

Both federal and Kentucky statutes protect employees from sexual harassment from all sources. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides broad protections for employees against all types of harassment, and in Kentucky, the Kentucky Human Rights Act also protects against all kinds of discrimination, including sexual harassment.

The federal Civil Rights Act is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in Kentucky, you can file with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, which enforces state laws against both discrimination and harassment of any type

If you find yourself being sexually harassed by a client, or non-co-worker, at your place of employment in or around Louisville, and reporting the situation to your employer results in no action, contact me immediately at Chris Sanders Law PLLC. I care about my community and the people who comprise it, and I strive constantly and compassionately to help others who face issues at work.

Are Clients and Outside Persons Covered by Sexual Harassment Laws?

The answer is an affirmative “yes.” Sexual harassment laws cover clients and outside persons. Though we usually envision sexual situations arising from and within groups of people who work together, those who frequent a place of work – whether clients, vendors, suppliers, contractors, or others – can also assert unwanted advances or otherwise sexually harass someone and be liable under the law.

The EEOC fact sheet on sexual harassment clearly states: “The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.”

What Should You Do If a Client Sexually Harasses You?

Say you’re a financial manager who meets with clients frequently, and one of them starts making suggestive comments or advances. This client does so persistently and in an unwelcome matter. You don’t make any gesture or statement that would let them think this behavior is okay, and now you don’t know where to go next. 

This clearly rises to the level of sexual harassment. You can report the ongoing harassment to your supervisor and get the client transferred to another agent, but instead, you keep quiet because you don’t want others to know of your circumstances.

Without going to your employer – who can do more than just transfer the client – you attempt to deal with it on your own. The first step is to make it clear to the client that you don’t appreciate what’s going on, and you expect it to cease immediately. If this doesn’t work, or if you’re not the confrontational type, you can write a letter or send an email to the person asking for cessation and a show of respect for your professional abilities. Written documentation can be proved later on. 

Whatever you do, you will need to document everything that happens. Keep a journal and jot down each incident by time, date, and location. If there are witnesses, make sure to get their statements as well. Your documentation will be essential when you do report matters to your employer or when you file a charge with the EEOC.

Also, be sure to follow all company policies and procedures in reporting the situation. If there are no policies in place, consult with your human relations personnel, your supervisor, or your boss. Make sure everything ends up in writing so you have proof that you reported the sexual harassment.

What If Your Employer Fails to Act on Your Complaint?

Your employer may choose not to act upon your complaint for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the client is too essential to the business, and the employer doesn’t want to lose their contribution (money or otherwise). Perhaps the employer doesn’t choose to believe you or is not the type to take what could be considered confrontational stances.

Of course, you’re going to need to follow through and find out why there has been no action. Perhaps a second reminder might spur your employer into action. If your employer still chooses not to act, then you should consider filing a charge of sexual harassment with the EEOC. Generally, you have 180 days to file from the date of the incident, but since Kentucky also has laws protecting against sexual harassment, the limit stretches to 300 days.

The EEOC will then investigate, perhaps mediate a resolution, or even initiate a lawsuit for any personal damages you have suffered. If you wish to sue your employer or harasser yourself, you generally have to wait for the EEOC to issue what is called a Right to Sue Notice.

You can also file with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, which has a very generous statute of limitations of five years. Also, Kentucky law covers employers with eight or more employees, while the Civil Rights Act covers only employers with 15 or more employees.

Experienced Guidance When You Need It

If you’re involved in a sexual harassment situation, it can be stressful as well as pose questions about which action you should take. Your employer is definitely responsible by law for handling the situation, but sometimes even approaching the leaders of the company can take some extra courage. 

That’s why you don’t have to confront this alone. Bring your problem to me as soon as it arises. We can discuss the situation and come up with common-sense and workable approaches to resolving the situation. The best bet is to aim for some sort of resolution that doesn’t involve filing a charge against your employer, but sometimes, that is exactly what is needed.

If you’re suffering sexual harassment at work in or around Louisville, Kentucky, contact me immediately at Chris Sanders Law PLLC.