Quite a few people in the modern economy have to directly interact with customers as part of their job. Workers at retail stores and restaurants may have to guide customers through their shopping experience and attempt to do it with a smile on their face no matter how demanding, unkind or creepy the customer is.

Unfortunately, some customers will use their position of perceived authority or power over customer service workers to abuse and harass the service professionals taking care of them. Whether you are the cashier at a bookstore, a bartender on a Friday night or a server at an upscale restaurant, you should not have to endure sexual harassment from customers as part of your job.

What does customer sexual harassment look like?

Some people are blatantly overt in their harassment of service workers. They may make rude and suggestive jokes at the expense of the worker. They may attempt to solicit flirtation or sexual favors, or comment on that person’s appearance and body.

Some individuals, especially those under the influence of alcohol, may even progress to sexual assault, slapping, grabbing or pinching someone or one of their body parts. Customers may feel a sense of entitlement because they chose to pay for services and might leave a tip afterward.

Workers should not have to endure or ignore such behavior. Instead, they should be able to rely on management to take their side when customers cross the line.

Companies have an obligation to provide a safe work environment 

Being proactive about sexual harassment doesn’t just mean having employees go through training about what sexual harassment looks like and allowing staff members to report management and co-workers for misbehavior. It also means acknowledging that customers and clients can participate in harassment and inappropriate behavior.

Companies should step in to end harassment, possibly asking customers to leave if they won’t behave themselves. Management should not put short-term income or sales ahead of the long-term security and health of their workers.

If you have reported customer sexual harassment to your employer and they have refused to take action, or worse, fired you for your complaints, you may have the right to hold your employer accountable for their failure to protect you.