Can an employer force you to ignore customers’ sexual misconduct?
Most companies will train their workers about the right to a harassment-free workplace. You probably know that your employer will intervene on your behalf if one of your co-workers touches you inappropriately or your manager tries to solicit sexual favors from you.
However, you may not feel as comfortable speaking up when the person mistreating you is a customer. Especially for those who work in a sales position or in a role where gratuities influence what they make, ignoring customer misconduct may simply seem like part of the job.
While you may have to turn a blind eye to an occasional offensive remark, your employer should not facilitate a hostile work environment by demanding that you ignore customer misconduct. They have a duty to protect you from all sexual harassment that arises while you work.
How can your employer help?
There are numerous ways that businesses can protect their employees from customer sexual harassment. The first and most important is to create a culture where such abusive behavior is not acceptable. Some businesses thrive on promoting a flirtatious or borderline abusive environment. They may then expect their workers to simply ignore it when customers cross that fine line between friendly flirting and overt harassment.
Even in an environment where customers may expect you to flirt and smile for a tip, you should not have to endure blatant sexual statements, inappropriate jokes or unwanted touching. Workers should be able to notify managers about the behavior of customers and expect support. Managers can either take care of the problem customer themselves or have those individuals leave the business because of how they treat the staff.
In extreme cases where someone is physically aggressive or threatening, management could permanently ban them from the business to prevent them from abusing you or your coworkers in the future.
How businesses fail their employees
All too often, companies side with the misbehaving customers rather than the victimized employees. They may refuse to intervene despite an employee’s complaints, or they may reprimand a worker who refuses to serve a particular patron.
If your employer has demanded that you ignore customer harassment, refused to protect you or punished you for speaking up, then you may have grounds for a sexual harassment claim based on both the behavior of customers and the response of your employer. Recognizing when a sexual harassment situation becomes actionable can help you stand up for yourself in an unhealthy work environment.