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The customer is always right? Not so fast

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

In a faltering economy, superior customer service is more important than ever. Companies are doing whatever it takes to please their customers. However, this should not include looking the other way when a customer harasses an employee.

You have a legal obligation to protect your employees from discrimination and harassment, even at the risk of losing a customer.

The U.S. Equal Employment Oppor­­tu­­nity Commission (EEOC) charged a restaurant with harassment based on race and national origin after it failed to properly respond to racist comments uttered by a customer to a waiter. The customer had berated an Arab waiter of Tunisian origin, shouting, “Why don’t you f****** speak English?” The restaurant’s manager, who is Arab and Moroc­­can, learned of the incident the next day. When the customer returned that evening, the manager told him that he did not approve of the way he had spoken to the waiter the night before. The customer denigrated the manager and challenged him to fight outside. The manager asked the customer to leave, and the customer filed a complaint at the front desk on his way out.

The following day, the restaurant told the manager that he would lose his job if he didn’t write an apology to the customer. The manager refused to apologize, and was fired immediately. Before the trial, the restaurant settled the case to the tune of $165,000. (EEOC v. Albion River Inn, Inc.)

Final note: Remind employees that they do not have to tolerate harassment by customers, and can use the company’s complaint reporting system without fear of retaliation.

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