Vendor Sexual Harassment During Work
| Read Time: 4 minutes | Sexual Harassment

Suffering from sexual harassment at work is unacceptable, no matter who commits the harassment. You may know your boss and coworkers can’t harass or discriminate against you, but what happens if a third-party vendor acts this way? This is an unfortunately common scenario as clients and third parties sometimes feel they hold sway over employers, especially if they are paying your employer for services. 

Our Los Angeles sexual harassment attorneys at King & Siegel can help if you experience vendor sexual harassment. Our firm can investigate your claim and fight for compensation to hold liable parties accountable.

What is Vendor Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome and inappropriate sexual behavior. A vendor is a third party who works with your employer, such as a supplier or distributor. As unfortunate as it is, vendors sometimes harass employees while carrying out their duties. 

Sexual harassment can take many forms, such as:

  • Unwanted sexual advances—inappropriate gestures or actions that show a desire to engage in sexual conduct;
  • Sexual coercion—pressuring you to engage in sexual activities in exchange for a workplace benefit;
  • Sexual comments or jokes—making explicit or demeaning remarks about your appearance, gender, or personal life; and
  • Inappropriate touching—any unwanted physical contact that makes you feel uncomfortable or violated.

Many victims don’t report this behavior because they don’t know if it constitutes harassment. In addition, they sometimes worry about jeopardizing relationships that are critical to the company’s business. 

If a vendor’s conduct makes you uncomfortable, never hesitate to report it to your employer. A detailed breakdown of how to report sexual harassment appears later in this article.

Where Does Vendor Sexual Harassment Happen?

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere, at any time. It doesn’t have to occur at work to qualify, especially if you communicate with vendors through the phone or Internet. 

Some common channels of sexual harassment include:

  • In-person interactions—direct contact during meetings, events, or daily interactions;
  • Electronic communication—harassment through emails, text messages, or social media; and
  • Workplace events—misconduct during conferences, trade shows, or other professional gatherings.

You don’t have to be sexually harassed by a vendor during work hours to report their conduct. Your employer needs to know about these acts if the harassment is connected to your job.

How to Report Vendor Sexual Harassment

Addressing sexual harassment promptly and effectively helps keep your workplace safe and respectful. Employees should feel empowered to report instances of harassment without fear of retaliation. While each workplace has a unique reporting process, most victims can take the following steps. 

Know Your Company’s Reporting Procedures

Your company likely has guidelines for reporting sexual harassment. This information is often found in the employee handbook or through Human Resources. You should review these procedures to understand who to speak with and what information they need.

Document the Incident

Before reporting, document as much as you can about the harassment incident. Include dates, times, locations, individuals involved, and any witnesses. Save copies of any relevant documents, text messages, or chats. Having strong evidence can speed up the investigation and lead to better results.

Report to Immediate Supervisors or Managers

If you feel comfortable, report the vendor’s sexual harassment to your supervisor or manager. They are often the first line of defense in addressing workplace issues. Give them the documents you’ve collected and what else they need from you. 

Use Anonymous Reporting Options

Many companies have anonymous reporting channels to protect an employee’s privacy. This may include dedicated hotlines, online reporting forms, or third-party services. Check your employee handbook or with your HR department to explore these options.

Involve Human Resources

Some victims are uncomfortable reporting the conduct to their supervisor. The vendor and supervisor may be friends, which can complicate your complaint. If this happens, escalate the matter to the Human Resources department. They will start an internal investigation and can keep your complaint confidential.

External Reporting Options

Sometimes, you may need to report the conduct to government agencies or law enforcement. Some of these include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the California Civil Rights Department. Government agencies have strict reporting standards, so it’s best to speak with an attorney before filing a complaint.

Get Support from Colleagues

Talk to trusted coworkers about the vendor’s sexual harassment. They may provide more evidence or share their own experiences about sexual harassment by the same vendor (or other vendors) at work. They may be able to direct you to others who have experienced the same or similar problems. In addition, sharing your experience in writing can help document what has happened to you. 

Get Legal Advice

You don’t have to be alone during this process. Speaking with an attorney can help you understand your rights and file a complaint that your employer will take seriously. A lawyer can also help you pursue legal options outside of the workplace to get compensation for your injuries.

Is My Employer Liable for a Vendor’s Harassment? 

According to California law, employers are legally obligated to prevent and correct harassment at work. An employer who is aware of harassment and fails to take corrective action can be liable for third-party vendor sexual harassment. This is why it is essential that you report the harassment: if your employer is not aware of it, they are not liable for it. 

Ways that employers can protect victims and stop harm can include:

  • Tell the vendor to stop the harassing conduct,
  • Ending the relationship with the vendor,
  • Changing the victim’s job duties or work area, 
  • Offering the victim resources like counseling, and 
  • Taking legal action against the vendor.

Unfortunately, many California employers ignore or downplay harassment. They sometimes do the bare minimum to accommodate the victim because they want to keep the business relationship with the vendor.

Your Employer Can’t Retaliate for Reporting Harassment

Some people hesitate to report sexual harassment because they don’t want to lose their jobs or face discrimination. However, this type of retaliation is illegal in California. An employer can’t do anything to punish you for standing up for your rights.

What Damages Can I Recover After Vendor Sexual Harassment? 

Workplace sexual harassment can affect all aspects of your life. An attorney can help you get compensation to pay for your financial and emotional damages. 

Here are some of the damages you can recover after experiencing sexual harassment:

  • Lost wages, 
  • Medical expenses,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Emotional distress, and
  • Job reinstatement.

Sometimes, the court may award punitive damages to punish the vendor or employer for their willful or egregious conduct. This is intended to deter similar behavior in the future.

In addition to monetary damages, you may seek an injunction or restraining order to stop the harassment or prevent it from happening again.

Schedule a Case Evaluation

King & Siegel LLP handles a wide range of workplace harassment cases and is here to help you. Vendor sexual harassment causes severe harm, and we can take legal action to get compensation for these damages. Our Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyers have a record of success, helping workers recover six-figure settlements in these cases. 

Call our office to schedule a free consultation

Author Photo

Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

Read More Articles by Julian Burns King