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Is Your Employer Liable for How Customers or Clients Treat You?

Unhappy customerEmployer Liability for Treatment of Employees by Customers

Most jobs involve interaction with people other than your co-workers. Whether you work in an industry with customers or you are responsible for meeting the needs of clients, just about everyone with a job has to deal with people in one way or another. Customers and clients are a vital part of keeping your employer in business and keeping you employed, so it’s essential to make sure they are satisfied.

But when happens when those customers or clients treat you poorly? And what happens when that poor treatment extends beyond just a bad attitude or a few moments of discomfort?

What if you are harassed by a customer or client?

Employers Have a Role in Preventing Abuses or Harassment of Employees by Clients and Customers

In a nutshell, your employer is responsible for protecting you from racist, sexist, or discriminatory customers or clients if they know there is a problem.

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must maintain a harassment-free workplace. This includes protecting employees from harassment by non-employees. Employers are legally obligated to take action if a non-employee violates discrimination laws.

How Does Your Employer Know You are Facing Hostility or Discrimination?

The only way your employer can be held responsible for protecting you from discriminatory behavior of a client or customer is if they know about it.

How do they find out about it?

You tell them. You file a report of harassment just as you would if a co-worker or supervisor were harassing you. Your employer is required to listen to your complaint and take is serious. Despite the instinct to protect the relationship with the client or customer, your employer must determine if there is a problem and take action to stop the problem – even if it puts the relationship with the client or customer in jeopardy.

Courts take the protection employers owe to employees so seriously they have even ruled that employers are responsible for protecting employees from harassment that occurs off-site. If it can be linked to your work, your employer must protect you from harassment.

Employers are responsible for dealing with harassment if a complaint is filed by an employee or if they should have known about the situation, even if it was not officially reported. They must investigate the incident or incidents, document their findings, and take action to eliminate discrimination or harassment.

If it is determined that your employer did not take appropriate action to stop the problem in light of the circumstances, they can be held liable for what occurred.

Educating People about Harassment

Obviously, there is only so much your employer can do to actually stop a third party’s behavior. But they must at least try and if they are unable to stop what’s happening, they must shield you from it without penalizing you.

In New York, the protections provided to employees under the state and local anti-discrimination laws also extend to include behavior by a client or customer. One of the ways employers can educate employees, independent contractors, clients, and customers about sexual harassment is with information from the state’s Sexual Harassment Policy Model, which you can find here.

For more information or to find out what you can do if you are dealing with client or customer harassment, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to schedule a free consultation.

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