Sexual harassment comes in two main forms. It may involve someone in a position of authority trying to use their power to bully or coerce someone else into romantic or sexual activities. This kind of sexual harassment is quid pro quo sexual harassment and involves offering career benefits for sexual or romantic favors.
The other main form of sexual harassment involves the creation of a hostile work environment. It could include tacky, tasteless jokes, unwanted flirting or overt workplace hostility directed at one employee because of their sex, sexuality or appearance.
Most people think of sexual harassment as an issue that occurs between employees or between a worker and their supervisor. However, sexual harassment can also involve customers.
Customers can become inappropriate
Those working in public-facing customer service rules already know that customers can be incredibly inappropriate. They can tactless jokes or insist on asking someone out every time they stop at the business.
Sometimes, customers create a hostile environment, targeting someone who has declined their advances before. They might even assault a worker, touching them without consent in inappropriate and offensive ways. Employees dealing with customer sexual harassment should be able to turn to their employer to help.
How should companies handle customer harassment?
Even if your employer has a policy that the customer is always right, you should not have to endure workplace misconduct because of that policy. Customers who make inappropriate statements, who intimidate workers or who touch people inappropriately should face consequences for their behavior. If a worker reports that kind of misconduct to the company, management should intervene to protect them. They could have someone else deal with a customer or ask them to leave.
If a worker reports sexual harassment by a customer and receives punishment instead of support, then the company may ultimately be to blame for the hostile environment created by those inappropriate customers. You can better protect yourself from unfair retaliation over speaking up by keeping your own records about the customer harassment you endure and your attempts to report the issue to your supervisor or human resources team.
Recognizing that your company should protect you against all forms of sexual harassment, regardless of who abuses you, can give you the courage to hold them accountable for their failure to protect you.