Q. One of our good customers—a man—insists on doing business only with the men on our staff. When approached by one of the women in our company, he tells her, “I need to deal with one of the guys.” Can we get into trouble for this if we bend to his wishes? – G.G., Maryland
A. Acting on a customer’s biases is just as illegal as an employer acting on its own biases. If a customer or client indicates a service preference based on gender, race, or other protected characteristic, and that preference is not based on a legitimate reason (e.g., privacy concerns), then follow these best practices:
- Explain your company’s anti-discrimination policies and the company’s duty to follow applicable anti-discrimination laws.
- Encourage the customer to focus on the employee’s skills and ability to perform the job effectively. Having a calm, rational conversation may help some customers get over the unquestioned stereotypes or reflexive objections they may have.
- Get backup from a higher-up. Having a united front will help show the individual that you mean business. It is extremely important that upper is on the same page. A biased customer should not be able to get his way by complaining up the chain of command.
- Be prepared to lose the customer’s business. Chances are, the cost of losing one customer’s business will pale in comparison to how much it would cost to fight a lawsuit.
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