The customer’s not always right — and an employer may be liable

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Posted by Legal Team On February 1, 2019

If the customer is always right, does that mean anything goes? Do you, as an employee of whatever enterprise that puts you in the public’s path, simply have to suffer whatever bad and boorish behavior a customer wants to dish your way?

Absolutely not.

When a customer’s racist, sexist or prejudiced behavior creates a hostile work environment that makes your life miserable and affects your ability to do your job, your employer may actually be liable. Your boss can’t skirt liability by placing the blame for a hostile work environment on a customer’s shoulders if he or she knew that you were being harassed (or should have known it) and could have put an end to the situation.

Essentially, you have the right as an employee to be free of discrimination and harassment at work based on any of the protected classes listed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Those include your race, religion, color, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), national origin, disability and age. Your right to protection against that kind of harassment is absolute. It doesn’t matter whether the harassment is coming directly from your employer, your co-workers or your customers.

For example, imagine that you are a woman working as a waitress. Your boss knows that the customers sometimes get rowdy, especially when there are groups of men out without their families. He tells you that you should “humor them” when they make sexual comments toward you and obscene gestures and suggests that you make a joke of the situation.

That’s just as unacceptable as telling you to “humor” a co-worker who did the same thing. The odds are that your boss would never accept that kind of behavior from an employee — and it shouldn’t be accepted from a customer either.

You don’t have to tolerate harassment from a customer and a hostile work environment. Assert your rights by contacting our office to discuss your case.