Des Moines, IA- An employer is obligated to make certain the workplace is free from discrimination and harassment. This means they legally compelled to stop sexual harassment between two coworkers. But not all sexual harassers are coworkers, sometimes they are contractors, outside contacts and quite frequently they are customers. And they can really cross the line!
If you’ve ever worked in customer services jobs, there’s no doubt, you’ve heard the phrase “the customer is always right.” This mantra is repeated over and over, but there are instances when the customer is wrong.
Take for instance a recent case involving a grocery chain in Oregon, which recently paid $487K to settle sexual harassment allegations filed by seven female employees. In the suit the women alleged they were sexually harassed, on an almost daily basis, by an elderly man who frequented the grocery store where they worked.
Beginning in 2007, the man would make lewd comments about their bodies and rub up against them. He would sit by the time clock, and as the women clocked in he would attempt to pull them onto his lap. When the man was confronted about leering at the women’s breasts, he would reply, “That’s what they’re there for,” the Oregonian reported.
The women went to the store’s management but they refused to do anything about the harassment, telling them that they need to catch the customer on camera before they would investigate. Because of their inaction, the grocer was forced to compensate the seven complainants.
In early August, a female employee from an Urban Outfitters in New York City, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit because the clothing retailer refused to do anything about a male customer who frequented the store. The man on a number of occasions, tried to put his phone up the women’s skirts and attempted to take photos while the climber stairs. In one incident, the man allegedly grabbed a store employee, licked her cheek and tried to peel back her lip to see her teeth. Management for the store refused to do anything about the man’s harassment so one female employee filed a sexual harassment suit.
Customers may think the bans on sexual harassment don’t apply to them, but they do.
In regards to sexual harassment by a customer, the EEOC says this: An employer may be responsible for the acts of non-employees, with respect to sexual harassment of employees in the workplace, where an employer, or its agent or supervisory employees, knows or should have known of the conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.
That means employers have an obligation to protect their employees from the discriminatory or harassing behavior of their customers. Not doing so can have the same ramifications as if the harasser was an employer. Employees who are routinely harassed by customers can contact a sexual harassment attorney and pursue civil action.