Restaurant manager speaking with male customers who have been harassing the server

What is Third-Party Sexual Harassment?

Third-party sexual harassment is harassment of an employee by someone other than another employee. Non-employees can include customers, clients, board members, shareholders, vendors, contractors, delivery people and service providers.

Harassing behavior from a third party, such as a customer, creates a hostile work environment when there is a pattern of behavior, the conduct is unwelcome and sexual in nature, and interferes with the target's ability to do their job.  Here's an example:


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Maybe Cassie was originally flattered by this customer's flirtation and even liked the fact that he and his friends tipped well. Perhaps Cassie even flirted back. None of that matters. Now that the flirting has gone beyond her comfort zone, Cassie has every right to speak up and stop it.

How to Handle Third-Party Sexual Harassment


  • Sexual conduct of any kind at work is always inappropriate.
  • If the unwanted behavior is ongoing and interfering with your ability to do you job, it could be illegal hostile work environment sexual harassment.
  • When a customer (or other third party) behaves in a way that offends you or makes you uncomfortable, you have every right to speak up and stop it. In situations like this, you can say something like, “It makes me feel uncomfortable when you talk to me that way. Let’s just stick to business.” Or “I know we’ve both flirted a little, but now I feel uncomfortable. I’d like to just focus on business."
  • If you are uncomfortable speaking to the customer directly, or the misconduct continues, ask your manager, or HR, for help. By law, your employer is legally obligated to protect you from third-party sexual harassment.



  • Your organization is legally obligated to protect all employees from third-party sexual harassment.
  • As a manager, you are the front line when it comes to protecting your employees. The flirting or inappropriate behavior of the third party may have started out harmless, but if your employee has said “no,” then the behavior needs to stop.  Anything less than that could create a hostile work environment and be grounds for a sexual harassment claim.
  • Maintain good relations with the third pary, but be respectful, direct and firm. Say something like, “I need you to stop asking Cassie out. She is not interested, and since she works for me, I am obligated to make sure it stops.
  • "Inform HR of your conversation and reassure Cassie that if the behavior continues, she should let you know.

Recommended Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

Once & For All

Stopping Sexual Harassment at Work

Employee and Manager Courses Available