Employees often find themselves at the mercy of a customer’s or client’s mood. From a transaction gone awry in a busy store to a food order error in a high-traffic restaurant to a perceived contract breach at a small business, customers often take out their frustrations on the closest individual. It is not uncommon, unfortunately, for heated emotions to spill over into verbal or even physical abuse.
In this type of serious altercation, an employee can suffer devastating psychological scarring due to verbal harassment and other mistreatment. Often relying on the kindness of other customers, the employee is generally forced to handle the insults on their own. When should the employer, then, be held responsible for the pain and suffering experienced by an employee?
Verbal abuse can be harassment
Often, verbal abuse deteriorates into harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 describes harassment as unwelcome conduct based on categories such as race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or country of national origin. The employer can be held liable for harassment perpetrated by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control. While an organization’s control over its customers or clients might be limited, the employer must take steps to always protect the employee.
It is crucial that the employee reports these client interactions so the employer can respond. If it is determined that the employer did not act to stop repeated abusive behavior by a non-employee, they might be held liable for what occurred. If you are the victim of customer mistreatment, it is wise to alert your employer as soon as possible. If you follow proper channels and are still exposed to harassment or verbal abuse, do not hesitate to seek legal guidance.