A customer harassed an employee of mine and now I’m faced with a claim of compensation. Is this right?
It could be. The Equality Act makes an employer liable for the harassment of its employees by a third party, such as a customer or supplier, over whom it has no direct control. However, you will only have to pay compensation if you knew the employee had been harassed at least twice before and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment. It does not matter whether the perpetrator is the same or a different person on each occasion. The three incidents can take place over any period of time.
Ray Silverstein, head of the London employment team at law firm Browne Jacobson LLP, says: “Retailers should consider introducing a few simple measures, update and republicise their anti harassment and bullying policies and make greater use of some existing procedures to protect their staff and their business.”
Staff should be told who to report an incident to and managers need to understand how to react to a complaint. A paper trail to record the incident and the action taken is vital given the open time frame, staff turnover and the fact that memories are notoriously unreliable. “Never underestimate the power of paper,” says Silverstein.
If dealing with the matter informally is not appropriate or gives rise to an aggressive response, banning the individual from the store should be considered. Silverstein concludes: “A retailer should always take the first opportunity to prevent harassment.”