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Clinic settles lawsuit with receptionist harassed by patient

Most people in New York may be aware that federal and state laws prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. But, fewer may be aware that employers who learn of the sexual harassment of a third-party that impacts a worker on the job have a duty to prevent a continuation of the unlawful conduct. A person should not have to endure egregious harassing conduct of a customer or other invitee of the business.

A recent story from another mid-Atlantic state highlights how a third-party person can create a hostile work environment for an employee of an institution. A health system in Virginia has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit brought on behalf of a receptionist at a clinic who says that a patient was harassing her. She told her supervisor of the unwanted sexual advances that the non-employee of the health care company had been engaging in while she was working at the clinic.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that the employer was on notice that the harassment was occurring, but failed to take action to put a stop to the patient’s sexually aggressive behavior toward the receptionist.

Workplace harassment can have deleterious effects upon a person, and it does not really matter if the sexual harassment is coming from a co-worker or a third-party who has access to the workplace. The harm caused by sexually harassing conduct is not any less if the aggressor is a third party.

Workers should not have to tolerate a hostile work environment, and civil rights laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace create a duty upon an employer that is on notice of the harassment to investigate and seek to prevent sexually aggressive behavior conducted by third-parties as well as workers at the business.

Source: EEOC, “Southwest Virginia Community Health System to Pay $30,000 to Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment Suit,” Oct. 23, 2013

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