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What should you do when a customer sexually harasses you?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue that affects countless Americans. Many people have an unnecessarily restrictive definition of sexual harassment that stops them from recognizing how inappropriate their work environment actually is.

For example, many people think that they can only face sexual harassment from someone of the opposite sex. Others might assume that it can only come from someone in a position of authority at the business.

Truthfully, anyone that you work with can sexually harass you regardless of their position or their sex. In fact, someone does not have to work for the same company as you for their behavior to constitute sexual harassment. Customers are a frequent source of sexual harassment in the workplace. How should you respond to a customer who touches you without permission or makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable? 

If you feel safe, you can ask the person to stop

Sometimes, all it takes to end the unwanted advances or uncomfortable jokes made by a regular at your restaurant is to let them know that you don’t find it funny. Some people will respect the boundaries that you establish as a professional and may even develop a better relationship with you afterward.

Others may try to complain to your supervisor to imply you have mistreated them by trying to restrict their behavior. Still others will redouble their abusive behavior toward you. What do you do if asking nicely doesn’t work?

Involve a manager or supervisor

The manager, shift lead or supervisor working at the same time as you isn’t just there to oversee your job performance. They are also there to ensure a safe and appropriate work environment. You should be able to rely on them to address the behavior and remove you from an unsafe situation. You shouldn’t face any career consequences for speaking up, either.

What if management won’t help you?

Sexual harassment laws are clear. Your employer has an obligation to protect you from abusive misconduct. When they fail to do so or when they penalize you for speaking up about sexual harassment from customers, you may need to fight back.

Keeping a record of the harassment you experience from customers and the lack of support from management when you complain could. Recognizing that customers can be a source of sexual harassment is the first step toward standing up for your rights as a worker.