Dealing with Customers who Harass Your Employees

Almost all managers and business owners understand that the law protects their employees from harassment by fellow employees or by any boss. Many companies even have written policies in place, detailing the seriousness of such harassment and how it will be investigated. Whether it’s sexual, racial, or any other inappropriate behavior, most managers know it cannot be tolerated. But what do you do when the harasser isn’t an employee? What if the harassment comes from a vendor or a customer?

Don’t just ignore misdeeds of outsiders. With vendors, you can complain to their supervisors to demand that the vendor either be disciplined or replaced. Dealing with errant customers can be more difficult though, especially if your company has had the attitude of ‘the customer is always right.’ But you cannot just ignore misdeeds by customers, especially if they are towards your staff.

The law firm Jackson Lewis PC addressed this issue recently in an article:

The Seventh Circuit provided an illustrative hypothetical of this in Dunn v. Washington County Hospital:

Suppose a patient kept a macaw in his room, that the bird bit and scratched women but not men, and that the Hospital did nothing. The Hospital would be responsible for the decision to expose women to the working conditions affected by the macaw, even though the bird (a) was not an employee, and (b) could not be controlled by reasoning or sanctions. It would be the Hospital’s responsibility to protect its female employees by excluding the offending bird from its premises.

429 F.3d 689, 691 (7th Cir. 2005).

Still, this does not mean the law makes employers vicariously liable for customers’ actions. Rather, the Seventh Circuit held, the standard of liability applicable to coworker harassment also applies to customer-based harassment. Although this standard does not translate perfectly to situations of alleged customer harassment, it is adaptable.

Read the full article at JacksonLewis website.

In other words, you need to stand up against harassment whenever it happens at the workplace, whether the offender is an employee or an outsider. You might not have as much leverage over customers but that doesn’t mean you should allow them to get away with demeaning behavior. Might it endanger sales? Certainly, but some things are more important that a large profit.

Do you have your harassment policies in writing? If not, then consider getting at least that in place. By getting the company’s standards and expectations in writing, you are making sure all employees know that you won’t tolerate disrespect of another. It also offers guidance to all supervisors. Time to get an employee handbook designed specifically for your particular business.

Religious Discrimination at the Workplace

As religious beliefs at the workplace becomes more diverse, there’s a greater chance for claims of religious discrimination. An employer needs to be aware of this and set policies in place to make sure all employees are treating each other (and customers) with respect, no matter their particular beliefs.

With society’s ever-growing religious diversity, it is important for organizations to understand how to provide a work environment free of religious discrimination.

According to the EEOC:

In fiscal year 2014 the EEOC received 3,549 charges alleging discrimination on the basis of religion.  These charges represent a slight decrease from the past few years but remain significantly above the numbers from before fiscal year 2007.  The top issues alleged in religion charges are Discharge, Harassment, Terms and Conditions of Employment, and Reasonable Accommodation.  EEOC also realized 268 settlements and 34 successful conciliations from 3,575 resolutions in fiscal year 2014.

The EEOC has filed 68 lawsuits since the beginning of fiscal year 2010 involving claims of religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  During the same period the Commission recovered approximately $4 million, as well as important injunctive and other case-specific “make whole” relief, for victims of religious discrimination.

Read the full article at the EEOC website.

Can you express religious views at work?  Of course, but as the business owner or manager you also have a responsibility to make sure employees don’t “pick on”, belittle, tease, or mock those who have differing beliefs from theirs.

Steps you should take: Familiarize yourself with the guidelines the EEOC provides on how to avoid religious discrimination:

Best Practices, according to the EEOC, on how to avoid religious discrimination at the workplace:

What is religious discrimination? EEOC offers a lengthy explanation of what (and isn’t) considered discrimination in the workplace:

Do you have a written policy against religious discrimination? Such a policy is included in all professionally-designed Employee Handbooks. If you want to learn more about how much it costs to get an employee handbook for your business, see a recent post by HR Quick Answers about the subject: What does it cost to get an Employee Handbook?

(This article is based on one originally published by HR Quick Answers. Republished with permission.)