When Customers Discriminate: Protecting Your Sales Force and Your Bottom Line

In customer-facing roles like sales, representatives often find themselves at the mercy of clients’ or prospects’ behavior. While most interactions are professional and courteous, some sales teams face an unfortunate reality: racial or sex-based discrimination from the very people they’re trying to serve. But what can you do when customers discriminate against your employees?

The consequences for companies that fail to address this issue can be severe. Beyond the moral implications, customer discrimination can lead to decreased productivity, lost revenue opportunities, and costly legal battles.

Productivity Losses and Revenue Impacts

Studies show that discrimination and harassment create a hostile work environment that undermines employee motivation and encourages absenteeism and turnover. When sales reps encounter discriminatory treatment from customers, it can directly impact their ability to perform at their best.

Customers may also take their business elsewhere if they witness or experience discriminatory behavior, jeopardizing valuable relationships and future sales prospects.

Legal Liabilities

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has advised that employers have a legal duty to maintain a workplace free from harassment, regardless of whether the harasser is a coworker, supervisor, or non-employee client.

Companies that knew (or reasonably should have known) about harassment or discrimination from customers and failed to take appropriate action can face expensive lawsuits and settlements. High-profile cases include:

  • A $385,000 racial harassment settlement involving a manufacturing company and two Black employees targeted by a customer
  • McDonald’s facing a $500 million sexual harassment suit from employees harassed by coworkers and customers
  • Over $1 billion in racial discrimination lawsuits against McDonald’s from Black franchisees

Reasonable Measures to Protect Employees When Customers Discriminate

While controlling customer behavior is challenging, companies cannot simply ignore harassment or discrimination against their sales force. Reasonable steps to mitigate risks include:

  • Investigating incidents and documenting findings
  • Asking offensive customers to stop or leave the premises
  • Implementing safety barriers, panic buttons, etc.
  • Allowing employees to avoid interactions with harassers
  • Terminating relationships with severely abusive customers

A Holistic Solution

Protecting your sales team requires a multi-pronged approach, combining policies, reporting mechanisms, training, and emotional support. Beyond clear anti-discrimination policies, companies should:

  • Provide confidential reporting channels for harassment/discrimination
  • Equip teams with tools for professionally addressing discriminatory behavior in the moment
  • Offer emotional intelligence and self-care training to lessen the emotional toll of such encounters
  • Implement a robust response plan when incidents occur

By prioritizing your employees’ right to a discrimination-free workplace, you safeguard your company’s culture, reputation, and bottom line.

If you’re ready to take the next step in protecting your workforce, let’s talk! Lead at Any Level can customize an approach to meet your team’s unique needs.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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