Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a very uncomfortable, downright embarrassing experience. People feel disempowered even when speaking up about it and may worry about whether their complaints will have a chilling effect on their careers and/or damage their relationships with their employers. Still, people generally recognize that their employers should protect them from abuses committed by coworkers or managers within the company. They will speak up not only for their own protection but because they recognize that troublesome co-workers will likely continue to mistreat others if they say nothing.
If someone who has been harassing a worker is not someone employed by the company but rather a customer or a client, things may seem even more awkward. Do workers have any rights when they experience sexual harassment committed by a customer or client?
Employers should protect workers from misconduct
There are some companies that seem to subtly encourage the sexualization and mistreatment of their employees. They have racy ad campaigns and promote a flirtatious environment, which may lead to customers crossing that fine line between flirtation and abuse.
Workers in sales professions and also those in customer-facing roles, like servers and bartenders, are among those most likely to experience customer sexual harassment on the job. Anyone who has to endure inappropriate conversations, unwanted touching or other forms of harassment should be able to speak about their experience with their supervisor or manager and get support from their employer.
Businesses should either remove the worker from the situation by having someone else handle the problem customer or by removing the problem customer or client from the business. Unfortunately, many managers will put the desires of inappropriate customers ahead of the protection of their workers and might reprimand a worker for speaking up or fail to prevent their abuse from certain customers.
When businesses turn a blind eye, workers may need to fight back
In scenarios where management will not intervene on behalf of workers to separate them from abusive customers or keep the worst bad actors out of the company, it may be necessary to consider a sexual harassment claim against the business.
A company that fails to protect workers from harassment by customers may be held liable in the same ways it might if it ignored harassment conducted by managers or coworkers. Understanding that businesses should protect workers from customer sexual harassment may inspire some people to speak up or to take legal action if they have had to endure misconduct on the job or faced retaliation after asking for their employer to support them.