In the eyes of the public, sexual harassment often involves a creepy co-worker or a pushy manager harassing someone or trying to leverage their authority for their own benefit. However, the authority that someone has over another person may not always be direct. Customers and clients are often in the position of authority over a worker who relies on them for sales or gratuities.
All too often, people feel like they can leverage their buying power into forced flirtation or even demands for romantic or sexual encounters. As a woman working with clients or customers, do you have any rights when those customers or clients sexually harass you?
Your employer should protect you from all harassment, no matter who does it
Many companies have harassment policies in their handbooks that make it clear they do not tolerate sexual harassment by their staff members. Companies often aren’t as clear about their policies when it comes to clients or customers who harass workers. Individual managers may ignore employees’ complaints or refuse to take action when a client or customer gets out of hand.
However, that failure to act is a violation of a worker’s basic right to a safe workspace. Companies have an obligation to intervene when customers or clients harass their staff. For customer service and retail stores, asking someone to stop or requesting that they leave may be adequate.
For clients who may withhold sales or otherwise attempt to abuse their position for their own benefit, management may need to make their employer aware of how they have treated someone that they should have professional courtesy toward.
You have a right to speak up and to do so without retaliation
You don’t have to put up with that regular customer who insists on touching you without consent or the inappropriate and suggestive things that the buyer from a particular company keeps saying to you. Document what happens and make a complaint to management.
In fact, it’s often smart to document reports made about customer or client harassment in the event that your employer punishes you. It is illegal for a company to retaliate against workers who report harassment, but it still does happen. The more documentation you have, the easier it will be to prove that your employer did not protect you and that they took inappropriate, retaliatory steps against you.