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How HVAC Contractors Can Handle Third-Party Sexual Harassment

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How many times have you had a technician return from a service call and report an uncomfortable interaction with a customer? In the era of the #MeToo movement and according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must create a work environment that is free of all forms of harassment. This means that HVAC contractors have a legal obligation to investigate all third-party sexual harassment complaints from employees including those that involve customers and individuals from outside of the company. Each time that one of your technicians makes a service call, there is always the possibility of encountering a customer who could possibly create an unsettling and threatening atmosphere. It is important that you know how to best respond when a situation like this arises:

Make yourself aware of and educated about the situation

Your employees should be able to file their complaints about a customer without fear of judgement or retaliation. Rather than simply turning a blind eye and ignoring the situation, listen to the employee and see if their complaint  has any relation to the workplace. If the situation does have a relation to the workplace or employment, regardless of whether it took place on company premises, the employer is legally responsible to act. Also, if the sexual harassment was observed by a supervisor or management official, the employer is expected to follow through with an investigation.

Realistically, an employer cannot be aware of every move that happens when a technician enters a customer’s home. However, when there is enough situational context to prove that your employee may have faced sexual harassment at a customer’s home, it is your responsibility to follow up and take corrective action. Even if your employee did not report any incidents, you must keep an eye out and take everything to consideration by investigating possible claims.

If the employer knew or should have known about the customer’s conduct, the employer is then legally required to follow up and take corrective actions. Even if the employee was not the one who reported the incident of sexual harassment, the employer needs to ensure that they investigate each and every possible claim.

Conduct a comprehensive investigation    

A complaint of sexual harassment by a customer should be handled in the same manner as if a coworker or supervisor were involved. Make sure to keep the employee updated and maintain records of all findings. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, you may be required to take swift and appropriate action to calm the situation.

Take swift and appropriate action

As an employer, it is your duty to take the necessary steps to ensure that the harassment is put to an end and the customer is under control. This can be done through a verbal or written warning to the customer. With the employee’s consent, you could also reassign them to a different geographic area or neighborhood. If necessary, law enforcement or security personnel can be brought in to ensure the safety of all parties.

As the employer, it your responsibility to ensure that all your employees are treated with respect in the workplace. If you know that a customer is sexually harassing one of your employees, take the situation seriously and formulate a response. Otherwise, you could find yourself with major legal troubles.

Sivan Menache

Posted In: Legal, Management

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