Are You Being Sexually Harassed By A Customer?

Sexual harassment is a delicate subject, so here's some advice on how to deal with it when it's coming from one of your clients.

It's not just a boss/employee conflict nor is it only abig-company problem: Sexual harassment in the workplace occurs in avariety of relationships, including those between customers andsuppliers. And it doesn't have to be a blatant demand for sexin exchange for business; sexual harassment can take the form of awide range of inappropriate behaviors, including a client who tellsdirty jokes, makes repeated sexual innuendoes or uses offensivelanguage.

As a business owner dealing with a problem with a customer, youdon't have legal recourse under the statutes governing sexualharassment in the workplace. Although you may have other legalavenues, depending on the laws in your state and the creativity ofyour attorney, you probably wouldn't want to get involved in alawsuit anyway. So here's some advice for dealing withcustomers who are harassing you:

  • Do a cost/benefit analysis. Consider how much businessor profit the customer represents and how much discomfort anddistraction the situation is causing. Determine at what point thegrief caused by the harassment outweighs the benefit of thebusiness.
  • Consider the motivation. If you can, determine themotive behind the inappropriate behavior. Is the customerdeliberately trying to make you uncomfortable? Is he or she tryingto establish a power position or trying to make a personal advance?Or is he or she simply unaware of how much the inappropriatebehavior offends?
  • Set boundaries. When you're the target ofinappropriate behavior, discuss it with the other person in anonconfrontational manner and let him or her know you're notgoing to tolerate it.
  • Change the contact environment. If you've beenmeeting with the client at your home or in his or her privateoffice, consider changing the location to somewhere public, such asa restaurant or a more open location at the customer'sfacility. You should also try to cut back on face-to-face contactand conduct business over the phone or via e-mail. This not onlyreduces the opportunity for offensive behavior but also lets youavoid a potentially uncomfortable confrontation.

If you find you're having a hard time developing aneffective action plan for dealing with the harassment, you mightwant to consider a therapy session with a counselor. A goodtherapist can help you understand your feelings and come up with asolution that's comfortable and workable for you.

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