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Handling unwanted sexual advances from important customers

While most Californians likely understand their company's policies regarding workplace sexual harassment, they might not know what to do when their harassers are clients that are important to their companies' bottom lines. Handling sexual harassment from a customer or a contractor may be delicate for harassed victims.

Employers in California are required to protect their workers from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This protection extends to include customers and clients who sexually harass employees. When the client or customer is a major one, an employee may be fearful that complaining about the sexual harassment may lead to retaliation from his or her employer. Retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment is forbidden under federal law.

An employee who is being sexually harassed by a customer should follow his or her company's reporting procedures just as he or she would if the harasser was a co-worker. The company may then address the customer or client itself or may instead report the problematic behavior to the client's own employer. If that employer does nothing, then it may be held to be liable for failing to act. If the worker's employer retaliates, then the employer may face liability for engaging in unlawful retaliation.

An employee who is being subjected to unwanted sexual advances must first complain within his or her organization before filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As there are strict statutory deadlines involved with harassment and discrimination complaints, it is important for people to act quickly when they have been harassed or discriminated against. An employment law attorney may help clients meet the statutory deadlines so that they don't lose the ability to file charges. If the EEOC later sends a notice of the right to sue, an attorney may file a lawsuit for his or her client.

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