An employer’s duty to stop third-party harassment

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Posted by Legal Team On April 17, 2020

When you work in any kind of business with the public, you may encounter all kinds of different people. No doubt, some of them you could do without.

But what happens when one of your customers is outright hostile to you for some reason? What if a customer harasses you in a way that is racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory?

Your employer actually has an obligation to protect you against third-party harassment at work. Since the business belongs to your employer, your employer ultimately can control the situation — and they’re expected to put you (not the customer) first.

Typically, in order to be liable for third-party harassment, your employer has to be aware that you’re experiencing discrimination or harassment. That may mean that you have to file a complaint, and ask your employer to take action. Even if you haven’t made a direct complaint, however, there are situations where an employer could reasonably be expected to know that something is happening on the premises. For example:

  • A customer makes derogatory comments about your ethnic background or racial characteristics in full hearing of the store’s owner
  • A customer in a restaurant refuses to be served by you because of your race, loudly demands that the manager replace you and spits at you

In situations like that, if your employer fails to take action to protect you from harassment and put an end to the situation, you have every right to hold your employer accountable.

The customer really is not always right. If you experienced third-party harassment or discrimination at work and your employer tolerates it in order to avoid losing customers, find out more about your legal options.