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Employers should protect staff from harassment by customers

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When people think about sexual harassment, many times they imagine a scenario where a worker faces mistreatment, unwanted advances or even unwelcome touching by a manager or co-worker. In reality, however, there are many forms of sexual harassment, and not all of them involve other employees. For people who work in retail or service industry jobs, customers can often be a source of sexual harassment and abuse.

All too often, workers do not understand their rights when it comes to stopping sexual harassment. They may buy into some dangerous myths, like the idea that jokes aren't harassment. Educating yourself about your rights and the law regarding sexual harassment can help ensure that your rights aren't violated and that you don't have to tolerate a hostile work environment.

The customer is not always right - especially if he or she is abusive

All too often, worker complaints about customer misbehavior get swept under the proverbial rug. Employers often seem far more interested in catering to harassing and abusive customers than in protecting the rights and safety of their workers. However, when it is clear that a customer has mistreated a worker, siding with the customer could put management in a legally precarious position.

No employee should have to suffer abuse or harassment from customers as part of a job. Unwanted touching, such as grabbing or smacking body parts of wait staff, is a perfect example. That behavior is technically assault, and it should be grounds for immediate removal from the business. Many times, however, employees are told to ignore it or stop complaining if they want to keep their jobs. That attitude isn't just inappropriate, it violates the rights of workers to a safe and harassment-free workplace.

You have the right to stand up for yourself against harassment

If a customer or a group of customers have sexually harassed you by touching you, making sexual jokes or advances, or otherwise acting inappropriately, you should advise you manager immediately. If he or she does not take action to protect you, you should take a moment to document the event. Write down what happened, where and when. Include names if possible.

If your employer is part of a corporate chain, there may be a reporting and complaint procedure in place. Follow it and report both the harassment and inaction by your manager. Document your report as well. Ideally, sending it in written form, such as email, can provide you with a record of your attempt to resolve the issue.

If your employer refuses to take action or chooses to penalize or even fire you because you reported the harassment, you may need to consider taking further legal action. Doing so won't just help you recover lost wages and opportunity, it can protect future employees from experiencing the same abuse.

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