In an episode of Mad Men, one client consistently makes sexual comments regarding the buxom, red-haired Joan. Nothing is done about it, of course-this is the ’60s-and eventually, Joan is used by her employers as an ace to secure a profitable relationship. In return, she negotiates to become a partner.
Although deals like this likely don’t exist anymore, most women have dealt with unwelcome advances at work. The severity of the situation can range greatly, depending on your pay grade. And while harassment is pretty straightforward to deal with when it’s a member of your staff, what do you do when it’s a treasured client or customer?
Harassment between clients, customers or suppliers and employees takes many forms. It’s not just men catcalling women or making suggestive jokes. Business owners don’t have legal recourse to deal with this kind of behavior. Likely, any workplace will do a cost-benefit analysis: how many good workers has this client or supplier driven away, and is it worth the cost of doing business with them? Next, you need to consider the motive. Is the client acting maliciously or are they just clueless that what they are saying or doing isn’t funny?
The first thing you can do is meticulously record every interaction with the client from the first problem. Make note of where you were, what you were doing, and who else was present. Next, change the scenery if possible. Meet the client in public or have a coworker present for the interaction. Try not to give the client the opportunity to be alone with you. This time if they make unwelcome comments or advances, you’ll have a coworker there to witness it.
If that doesn’t work, confront the client gracefully, allowing them to save face if possible. Make note of this conversation and how it went. If the harassment continues, take statements from other coworkers who have either seen the harassment or been victim of it and make a copy of your records for HR or the business owner. Relay to them the facts of the situation in an unemotional, professional way and request some course of action, such as not working in the area or at the times when you have contact with the client, or being taken off the account. If that’s not an option or your boss is unwilling to make changes, you may need to consult with an employment attorney to determine the best course of action.
If you have been the target of workplace harassment, discrimination or unfair termination, Bouchillon, Crossan & Colburn, L.C. represents clients in federal court and before the EEOC, MSPB and in state and union grievance hearings.
Our attorneys have more than 40 years dedicated to giving clients the attention, advice, support and empowerment they need to effectively meet their goals. We are committed to the principle that all persons shall have equal justice under the law. Call Bouchillon, Crossan & Colburn, L.C. at 304.523.8451 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.