Workplace sexual harassment materializes differently across industries. In technology, it might look like coworkers making fun of another employee’s sexual preferences or experience. In an office, it could include a manager or boss who exchanges favors for flirtation (or more). For service workers, sexual harassment often involves customers instead of other employees.
For far too long, American consumers have operated under the impression they had the right to say or do whatever they wanted to individuals who work in the service industry. People often demand flirtation from service professionals.
Expecting bartenders, wait staff and baristas to flirt for a tip is not only inappropriate, it can turn into harassment. Employers have a responsibility to protect workers from habitual sexual harassment by customers.
Workers need to report the harassment as soon as possible
As with any other claim of harassment in the workplace, it is critical that workers bring the issue to the attention of management or owners. Unless the people who run the business know what is happening, they cannot take steps to remedy the situation.
In some situations, it may be appropriate to ask a different employee to handle that customer or group. In other situations, the best outcome likely involves the business asking the person to leave.
Regardless of the remedy for a particular scenario, management should not tell workers to simply deal with it. Service workers do not need to accept the fact that customers engage in unwanted touching or sexually abusive language. Service workers who report sexual harassment from customers to their employers should receive protection, not retaliation or punishment.
Document your issues in order to protect yourself
The best way to address an issue of customer sexual harassment with your manager involves providing some sort of evidence. Ideally, a manager or another worker will witness the interaction and have the ability to corroborate your version of events. Other times, security footage may show that the customer touched you without permission.
Barring that, you should take steps to document the harassment. Keep written notes of whom the situation involved, what happened and when it occurred. Provide that information to your manager when you make your complaint.
Retain those records and expand them to include your employer’s response. Noting when you asked for help, what was done and how the situation progressed is important as well.
If management fails to take action or later punishes you for reporting the harassment, that documentation may help you with the process of filing a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit against your employer. Failing to protect you from an abusive customer can create a hostile work environment which affects your safety and mental health. Employers should put employee wellness above profits.