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Do workers have rights when facing customer sexual harassment?

On Behalf of | Oct 17, 2023 | Employment Law

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a well-known issue that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. It can impact workers of either sex and of any sexual orientation. Frequently, people think of someone in a position of authority, like a manager or a business owner, when they imagine a worker experiencing sexual harassment on the job.

However, workplace sexual harassment can also originate from those who don’t necessarily even work for an affected worker’s employer. Sometimes, workers experience sexual harassment instigated by customers. Those in service jobs are at particularly high risk for customer sexual harassment. Baristas, bartenders and waitstaff often experience inappropriate flirting or even unwanted touching while simply trying to do their jobs.

Employers should seek to prevent and stop all harassment

A company’s obligation to provide a harassment-free workplace does not magically evaporate when the person engaging in abusive behavior is a customer rather than an employee. When a worker speaks up about the customer harassment they have experienced on the job, they should be able to count on their manager to support them in that situation.

A manager responding to an employee’s allegation of customer sexual harassment should generally seek to remove that worker from the situation. Ideally, that manager or another employee could take over serving the customer engaged in misconduct. If that does not resolve the situation, then it may be necessary to ask the customer to leave.

Although there is a saying that the customer is always right, businesses should not put a customer’s sense of entitlement ahead of a worker’s sense of safety and personal dignity. Employees should not have to endure abusive conduct under the threat of a customer complaint or a withheld gratuity.

Workers who do not have supportive management may need to start documenting what they experience so that they can take the matter to human resources or pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit against their employer. Filing a sexual harassment lawsuit can be one way to force a company to change its practices so that it prioritizes the well-being of workers above the whims of its customers.