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Is the company liable for sexual harassment by a coworker?

Usually, we hear stories about managers or executives abusing their positions to sexually harass their employees. In these cases, the employer is strictly liable for their actions. But does it make a difference if the harasser is a coworker of the same or close level? Will the company still be responsible for their actions?

The law applies regardless of the position

Kansas laws on discrimination prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, whether by a supervisor, coworker or even a client. Sexual harassment can be in the form of:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Offering advantages like a promotion or raise in return for sexual favors
  • Hostile and unsafe working environment as a result of the sexual harassment

Unfortunately, harassment can be subtle at times, and the harasser can manipulate the victim into thinking it is all jokes and friendly banter.

What is the company’s liability?

Even if the employer is not the harasser, they can be liable for the harassment by their employees and even nonemployees. This includes independent contractors and clients on the premises. An employer will be responsible if the following circumstances exist:

  • The employer knew or should have known about the harassment
  • The employer failed to take preventive or corrective action

Note that other circumstances may affect the result of the complaint, as sexual harassment complaints are still on a case-by-case basis.

A victim’s remedies

Employees spend a lot of their time in the workplace, and it is important for their well-being that they feel safe. If you are experiencing workplace harassment, know that remedies are available to protect you and your rights. You can file a complaint with the Kansas Human Rights Commission (KHRC) or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If you are unsure how to build your case, it may help to consult with a legal employment expert to help weigh your case.