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Friday, May 18, 2018

Customer Heaping Racist Abuse On Employees? Employer Must Stop It Or Risk Suit

The video of the guy heaping abuse on a restaurant's employees for speaking Spanish that went viral made me wonder: what did the restaurant do after this? A company's duty to keep the workplace free of national origin and immigration status harassment extends to protecting its employees from customer abuse and discrimination.

The most common case comes when a customer demands the company engage in discrimination by not assigning people of a particular race or national origin to them. An example would be a hospital patient refusing to be treated by people of a particular race.

But when a customer heaps discriminatory abuse on employees, it is the employer's duty to keep the workplace free of discrimination. The employer now knows about this customer's propensity to discriminate. It now must take prompt action to correct the situation.

But what can an employer do to stop a racist customer? Here are some actions that can be taken in this situation, and I hope the employer did at least some of this:

  • Remove the customer: In this case, the manager was one of those being subjected to abuse. Still, the manager would be within her rights to ask the customer to leave and call the police if he refused.
  • Ban the customer: Let's say management didn't find out about the situation until after the case. The customer could be banned from the restaurant. In the case of a company where the customer represents a large chunk of sales, it's tempting to let it pass. But the company could be liable for the customer's bad behavior.
  • Make sure the customer is accompanied at all times: If the customer is one that is too big to ban, then make sure someone in management is assigned to be with that person at all times they have contact with employees so they can shut down any bad behavior. Let the customer know that further bad behavior will result in banning. Of course, that may be an empty threat if the customer is a major one. Still, the company must stop the bad behavior, even if it means getting rid of an otherwise good customer.

Here's what the company absolutely cannot do:

  • Accede to customer wishes: The company cannot allow a customer to demand it engage in discrimination. The answer to the customer who wants only people of a particular race, national origin or religion to deal with them must be a resounding no.
  • Retaliate against the employee/victim: The employer must not deal with the problem by firing the employee, assigning them to a less-desirable position, or otherwise retaliating against them for being a victim of discrimination.
If a customer is engaging in this kind of behavior, report it to HR or someone in management. If your employer allows customers to engage in discrimination, sexual harassment, or discriminatory harassment, or retaliates against you for reporting it, contact an employee-side employment lawyer in your state to discuss your rights.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.