Sexual harassment has been making headlines lately thanks to the brave men and women who decided to speak out against their harassers. In most of these stories, the victims describe how they were harassed by co-workers or high-powered industry executives. A great deal of sexual harassment cases involve a victim and harasser that are employed by the same company, but many victims are harassed by people from outside of the organization.

If you are ever harassed by a client or any other third party, it’s important to understand your rights, and more importantly, your employer’s legal obligation to protect you. Here’s what you need to know:

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is any form of unwelcome conduct that is sexual in nature. Contrary to popular belief, sexual harassment does not always involve physical conduct. Sexual harassment can be verbal, physical, or even visual. Making offensive sexual comments could be considered a form of verbal sexual harassment, whereas putting up sexually offensive images in the workplace could be a form of visual sexual harassment.

Every type of sexual harassment is classified as either “quid pro quo” or “hostile work environment” harassment. Quid pro quo, which translates to mean this for that in Latin, occurs when someone offers something beneficial to another person in exchange for sexual favors. For example, if a supervisor tells an employee that he will give her a promotion if she has sex with him, this is quid pro quo harassment. This type of offer only needs to be made once in order for it to be considered sexual harassment.

A hostile work environment is created when the verbal, physical, or visual sexual harassment occurs so frequently or is so severe that it begins to interferes with the employees’ ability to do work. If a supervisor makes one inappropriate sexual comment, this may be against the company’s policy, but it is not severe enough to legally create a hostile work environment.

Even if the harassment is only directed at one person, any one can report sexual harassment and hold their employer accountable for it. As long as they are affected by the harassment in some way, they can report it.

An Employer’s Obligation to Protect Employees From Sexual Harassment

Employers have a legal obligation to keep their employees safe while they are in the workplace. To fulfill part of this obligation, employers must protect their employees from sexual harassment. If they fail to do so, they can be held liable for the pain and suffering caused by the harassment.

When are employers held liable? It depends on the identity of the harasser. If someone is being harassed by an agent or supervisor within the company, the employer is always held responsible. This is true regardless of whether the employer was notified of the harassment. The rules are a bit different if the harasser was an employee, but not an agent or supervisor. In this case, the employer can only be held liable if they knew or should have known about the harassment, but failed to do anything to stop it.

Employers can also be held liable when a client of the employer is harassing an employee. But, the employer cannot be held liable for their client’s sexually harassing behavior unless they were notified of the behavior or they should have known about the behavior. They also cannot be held liable if they made an effort to take action to stop the harassment once they were made aware of it.

What Sexual Harassment Victims Should Do

If you are being sexually harassed by a client, it’s important to notify your employer right away. If you skip this step, your employer may be able to escape liability later on by arguing that they were never informed of the harassment. Contact the Human Resources department and schedule a private meeting with a representative so you can file an internal complaint. Provide the HR representative with as much information about the harassment as possible, including times, dates, and names. The HR representative should put all of this information into a written report so they have a record of your complaint. Be sure to ask for a copy of this report so you can review the information for accuracy. You will also need to hold onto this copy so you can prove that your employer was aware of the harassment.

Your employer should launch an investigation into the allegations right away after the report has been filed. They should also make an effort to stop the client from sexually harassing you again. But unfortunately, many employers fail to look into allegations of sexual harassment and even more of them fail to do anything about it, even when they know it’s true. If this happens to you, it’s normal to feel defeated. But, it’s important to remember that there are other legal options available.

Sexual harassment victims can file a claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Both of these agencies investigate complaints of sexual  harassment in the workplace and work with victims to hold employers accountable for failing to keep their employees safe. Before contacting one of these agencies, it’s best to speak to an employment law attorney so you can get a better understanding of your rights and the complaint process.

Have you been sexually harassed by a client, co-worker, or supervisor? If so, seek legal representation from an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. The experienced employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates are ready to hold your employer accountable and recover compensation on your behalf. There’s no time to waste—contact us today by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.