Regardless of the type of employer you are, you depend, on some level, on customers who are willing to pay for the goods or services being offered. And the old adage, “The Customer is Always Right,” a mantra of the American business community since this country’s founding, is as true today as it was then. But from time to time, valued customers will step over the line and act inappropriately towards company employees. If and when that occurs, employers need to understand the legal ramifications of dealing with the fallout.
Recently, a receptionist at a New Jersey automobile dealership brought an action against her employer for violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. In the Complaint, she alleged, inter alia, that her employer retaliated after she pressed charges against a high-profile customer who had tugged at her shirt and exposed her bra. Thereafter, she alleged that her work environment became hostile until she was terminated.
This case has been up to the Appellate Division in New Jersey, who ruled that the employer is not responsible for the conduct of a non-employee, and will not be held responsible for customer conduct under most circumstances. However, the Appellate Division did find that an employee filing charges against a customer is a protected activity that protects and individual against employer retaliation.
The upshot of the case is that in the rare case that customer behavior crosses over the line of good taste, take immediate measures to correct the situation. In the even rarer case that the conduct becomes criminal, let your employees know that if they choose to press charges, they will not the subject of retaliation in any way, shape, or form.