Handling Employee Harassment by Customers
Two people talking to the waiter at a coffee shop.

Much of the focus of harassment in the workplace tend to center around how employees interact with one another, but for those who have to work directly with customers and clients, it is entirely possible to encounter harassment from outside the company. Even though these individuals are not part of the company or organization, it is important for the employer to take the necessary steps to protect employees from any sort of harassment.

What is Considered Harassment?

Regardless of the old saying, the customer isn’t always right. Harassment can come in many forms, whether it is racist, sexist, discriminatory, or sexual in nature. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it a company’s legal responsibility to provide employees and non-employees with a harassment-free workplace, and any claim must be investigated thoroughly and acted upon as necessary. If someone has made a claim, it should not be taken lightly.

How to Handle Customer Harassment

Of course, the first step to handling any harassment claim is to have knowledge of the situation. Employees will more than likely complain or report a problem to their supervisor, or some interactions may be directly observed by a manager or other party, and the company should be careful to not dismiss the issue regardless of who the customer is. Unfortunately, some businesses choose to protect the customer relationship first, whether it is due to the amount of money they spend or the length of time they’ve been working with the company, but this only creates a toxic environment for employees. Those who work for the company should feel supported in a way that ensures they are comfortable reporting a problem if or when it occurs.

In any harassment situation, an investigation is needed to determine appropriate action. Interview any witnesses and talk with the parties involved, including the customer or client. Employers are responsible for taking appropriate action to protect employees, which, depending on the situation, could include a ban or refusal to do business with the person or persons (and following through) or allowing the employee to avoid any interaction with the person through reassignment or relocation within the workplace. Keep in mind that reassignment or relocation must be agreed upon by the employee or it could be seen as a retaliatory action.

Stand With your Employees

Regardless of the type of business environment, it’s important to ensure your employees feel protected. Understand what sort of harassment from customers the employees may be subjected to and train everyone so they can identify an issue and report it before the situation gets out of hand. Remind them that they have a place to turn should a problem occur, and that any claim will be handled seriously.

If you feel as though your company could be doing more to get open and honest feedback from employees, use tools such as stay interviews and exit interviews. A third-party system from HSD Metrics will ensure employees feel comfortable sharing honest feedback anonymously, so you know what’s going on without anyone attempting to sugarcoat the issue. We offer several survey solutions, including our StayRight program to help strengthen your employee retention, and ExitRight® to provide insight into turnover benchmarks and more.

For more information on our survey products, or to schedule a demo, contact us today.