Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered an illegal form of discrimination in Hawaii. While most employees and employers think that the sexual harassment laws only prohibit discriminatory conduct by supervisors and co-workers, these laws also prohibit sexually harassing behavior by customers directed at employees. Employers owe a duty to stop customers from sexually harassing their workers and to keep their employees safe.
What is sexual harassment by customers?
Customers, vendors, and other non-employees sometimes engage in sexually harassing behaviors directed at employees. This might include offensive comments, unwanted touching, or unwelcome advances. Employees with public-facing jobs are especially vulnerable to this type of sex discrimination, and employers are obligated to take steps to protect them and end customer sexual harassment in the workplace.
What employers must do
Employers should provide training sessions to their employees that include clear steps the employees can take when they are the victims of customer sexual harassment. Many employees do not realize that they can complain about customers’ behavior to their employers similar to how they can complain when the harassment is perpetrated by co-workers or supervisors. When an employer receives a complaint of customer sexual harassment, the employer must investigate what happened and take steps to end it. Employers might adjust the working area of the employee, tell the customer to leave, or terminate a vendor that behaves in this type of way. Employers should not punish employees for complaining about customer sexual harassment.
While employers are obligated to keep their employees safe from sexual harassment, some might be reticent to do anything about the behavior of customers. Employers might be worried about losing the customers and the business they bring. However, when employers do nothing to stop customers from sexually harassing their employees, the employees may have grounds to file discrimination charges against their employers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Employees who have been the victims of workplace sexual harassment from customers might want to consult with an experienced employment law attorney for advice about how to handle their situations.