When your harasser is a customer or client

After the Rose Bowl, football player Rey Maualug went up behind Erin Andrews, a sideline reporter for the ESPN College Football Saturday telecast, and did a sexual sort of dance – without touching her – before walking on past.

Reading comments in the blogosphere, it is clear that (like lots of other kinds of harassment) many people saw nothing wrong with this behavior. I disagree because she obviously didn’t know it was happening and he wasn’t about to inform her, thus it was in no way a mutual sort of celebration, but one he enforced on her without her permission or awareness.

As both individuals are known to each other, I wouldn’t exactly classify his actions as street harassment or public harassment, which I tend to define as harassment between strangers in public, but I don’t know that it quite qualifies as workplace sexual harassment either.

This example illustrates a very pervasive kind of harassment that many women deal with in their jobs — harassment by customers or clients (and in this case, the people being interviewed or reported on for a story). What can someone do about a sexually harassing customer s/he is supposed to be serving without jeopardizing her/his job?

I worked in a few retail jobs as a teenager and I had my fair share of getting “hit on” by male customers (most of whom were years to decades older than me).  What could I do but giggle nervously and just hope they would go away soon? The customer is always right, right?

I just did a quick online search for any information on sexual harassment by customers, and among the few webpages I found included this: “Q: Does sexual harassment law apply to harassment by customers? A:Yes, as long as the employer knows about the offensive behavior and has a chance to fix the problem. Customer harassment is a lot like co-worker harassment. Until you speak up, the employer may not have enough reason to suspect that the company’s client is harassing you and making your job miserable.”

But how many employers are in the position to regulate customers? Unless someone is threatening or stalking an employee, in which case I could see an employer banning that person from the area, what would an employer do? Tell the customer to stop “flirting with” or harassing its employees? Will they risk losing a customer when they can probably easily find another hourly worker who won’t complain?

Have you experienced sexual harassment from customers, clients & non-coworkers/supervisors while on the job? Do you know about legal remedies for dealing with it or is it in the same realm as street harassment and is something we’re all supposed to “live with”?

3 Responses to When your harasser is a customer or client

  1. treariash says:

    I am unable to understand this post. But well some points are useful for me.

  2. Reader says:

    Wow! Thank you very much!
    I always wanted to write in my blog something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?
    Of course, I will add backlink?

    Regards, Timur I.

  3. of course! go ahead. sorry for the delayed response. i just found your comment in my spam folder.

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