Why your employer is responsible for harassment outside work

Many employees – and even many employers – think that an organization is only responsible for sexual harassment when it occurs in the workplace or at least during the workday or at a work-related event like a company picnic or holiday party. In fact, employers’ obligations to protect employees from prohibited behavior extend further under the law.

As the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) explains, “Employees are prohibited from harassing others both on and off the employer premises and during or outside of work hours.” An example might be an improper advance or comment by a co-worker or manager at a wedding or party where you both happen to be in attendance or even if you run into someone at a concert or the grocery store. It can also include comments made to someone on social media. 

Harassment outside the workplace can lead to a hostile work environment

Even if that manager or co-worker who behaved inappropriately when you encountered them outside of work is perfectly professional and respectful to you at work, it can be difficult not to be affected by what they did or said in another setting – even if they were under the influence. It can make an employee feel unsafe. They may try to avoid their harasser. It can affect their work performance. In short, it can create a hostile work environment.

That’s why employers have a responsibility to deal appropriately with harassment by employees (as well as customers, vendors or anyone else an employee has to deal with in their job) when they find out about it – even if the employee being harassed wasn’t the one to report it. Besides being required by law, it’s also in their best interests as an employer. That means making it clear in their employee training that people are never “off the clock” when it comes to how they treat their colleagues.

Everyone deserves to feel respected and safe around those with whom they work. If you’ve suffered – or are still suffering — sexual harassment that your employer has failed to address, it may be time to determine what your legal options are.