Workplace sexual harassment usually involves either quid pro quo harassment involving a supervisor or a hostile work environment created by coworkers. However, those are far from the only scenarios in which a professional might experience sexual harassment at work.
Your employer has an obligation to actively prevent a hostile work environment and to protect you from sexual harassment if you report it. What are some of the possible sources of sexual harassment that will not come from your coworkers or supervisor?
Client or customer harassment
Those who work in sales and customer service positions, like waitstaff, are at elevated risk of sexual harassment committed by customers or clients. Those placing orders with a business or leaving a gratuity after a meal may try to leverage their financial power to coerce someone into tolerating sexual misconduct. Employees should never have to put up with harassment on the job just to earn a tip or close a sale.
A company can have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment in the workplace, including from customers, but that will not protect you from the vendors who come to the company to perform service work on office equipment or deliver materials for your restaurant.
Vendors can very easily engage in inappropriate conduct toward individual workers. Although it can cause complications for the company to push back on vendor misconduct, doing so is a necessary step to protect workers from those who would mistreat them or try to manipulate them into accepting unwanted flirtation, touching or sexual advances.
Neighbors and landlords
Many businesses operate in rental spaces. Landlords may frequently stop by to check the premises and may act inappropriately when they do so. On the other hand, it could be people in the next business over that make an employee feel unsafe. A group of employees gathered around the back entrance to another business and catcalling workers could make them feel unsafe about going into work or leaving at the end of a shift.
Businesses have an obligation to protect their staff members not just from harassment from within the company but from anyone else that they interact with on a professional level. Workers should document and report misconduct by parties other than their employer or coworkers to the company. The company should investigate such complaints and respond appropriately.
Identifying less-common sources of sexual harassment can help both employers and employees better handle a difficult workplace situation.