48

So I recently got a job at a cellphone company. Don't get me wrong. I love the job. It taught me a lot of things. I love the people there and my boss. But I had a very uncomfortable situation with some customers that did not sit well with me. They were sort of harassing me. At one point, one of them said they watched Asian porn that had someone look like me. It made me feel very very uncomfortable. I thought it was whatever wouldn't have to deal with the customer ever again. But I noticed a lot of these customers staring at my chest even when I'm wearing a baggy shirt. One actually sniffed me and said I smelt good and gave me a creepy look.

I started to feel increasingly uncomfortable going to work. And another contribute to as why I feel like I might want to quit is that the smell from the restaurant next doors gives me a really, really bad headache. Every time I get off work. It makes me feel sickly.

So my question is: Is it wrong for me to quit the job on those standards? I've only worked for a month. But that incident with the male customer hasn't left my mind and I don't know how to bring it up with my employer. I feel bad if I quit because the company spent time with me to train me and teach me all these new things and they would have to hire someone new since they are short on staff.

  • 36
    Unless this particular company somehow attracts this kind of customer, switching jobs isn't going to help. You might just meet the same type of customer in a different company. It's probably best to find ways to deal with customers like that - which may include getting help from your boss or co-workers. – S.L. Barth - Reinstate Monica Nov 20 '15 at 8:28
  • 25
    This is an XY problem, you may want to edit your question to ask about ways to deal with harassment in a new workplace because that seems to be your actual problem. Your company will probably have procedures in place for handling harassment. "Companies are responsible for preventing sexual harassment not only by other coworkers, but also by clients (and vendors, and anyone else an employee comes in contact with in the course of her work)." (Source) – Lilienthal Nov 20 '15 at 9:43
  • 8
    It is much better to learn how to bring it up with your employer, than to leave a training job without learning that business-relevant skill! In effect, bring it up by asking your employer how to bring it up. Follow the process they give you. – Steve Jessop Nov 20 '15 at 12:31
  • 3
    This could also be useful: Can I refuse a customer service because they make me uncomfortable? – David K Nov 20 '15 at 13:43
  • 2
    @user44208 - unfortunately you will always run into creeps, especially if you are going to be working in retail. If anyone ever treats you like that again put your foot down and stand up for yourself. Tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable and that they need to get out. You may want to clear it with your manager on how to best handle the situation, because you're going to need backup if the creep in question decides to make a scene. If they won't back you up on this however, or suggest you should just take it for the sake of keeping the customer, then quitting is the best way to go. – AndreiROM Nov 20 '15 at 16:34
74

Short answer: You should bring it up with your employer!

I know you said that you don't know how to raise this, but you are being sexually harassed by the customers. This is not your fault. And likely, your boss doesn't know anything about this.

The first thing you need to do is to ask for a one on one with your boss and tell them exactly what happened. Tell them that it made you feel very uncomfortable. If your boss does not take it seriously (and given you seem to have a good relationship with them, it seems like they will), then you should mention that it is sexual harassment. Use those words. They have a special legal meaning.

But really, you must talk to your boss. You should never be made to feel uncomfortable in the work environment in this way, not by co-workers or by customers. Talk to your boss, tell them what happened, and I'm sure you will find things will be actioned. It would be a tragedy to feel forced out of a job that you clearly enjoy.

  • 1
    How would you bring it up? The reason being I feel bad if i do. I wouldn't know how he would deal with it as his not there all the time and theres only 5 of us. Im the only girl out of the 5. – user44208 Nov 20 '15 at 8:50
  • 20
    @user44208 simply ask for audience, and tell them you like your work and all your collegues, but you have this burden with one of the customers, who sexually harrassed you. As it was said, it has a strong meaning and it should be taken seriously. As bosses they will have to manage this situation, you shouldn't handle it alone. If they ask for details tell them what you heard, and don't be afraid to mention names to them. Otherwise you are letting the customer to be a jerk, and it shouldn't escalate into something else. I mean a normal person simply don't mention this. – CsBalazsHungary Nov 20 '15 at 9:03
  • 13
    @user44208 First ask for a private meeting with your boss. It's understandable that this can be difficult to discuss. – Brandin Nov 20 '15 at 9:32
  • 12
    @Philipp actually, the store manager does have control over customer behavior. When I owned a retail store, I made sure that the person in charge knew they had full authority to (and were expected to) tell customers when behavior was unacceptable, to escalate into throwing the customer out, and even to call the police when needed. – Kathy Nov 20 '15 at 15:30
  • 3
    @Philipp, to expand on what Kathy said, not only does the boss have control, depending on where this is, there's a good chance the boss is opening the company up to legal issues if the employee reports it to them and they don't do anything about it. – Kevin Nov 20 '15 at 15:38
5

Most reasonable looking women get some sort of harassment of this sort. Not just at work either. You need to deal with it and develop strategies to take care of it. There is two things you should do.

Firstly talk to your boss about it and see if there is anything the company can do to help you feel more comfortable. One that I have seen work is to pair you with another woman who is not shy to say something to the customer, or girls that I have employed I will speak to the customer myself if they cross the line (in the asian porn scenario I would have marched him out the door and told him not to come back). Having said that there is a reason pretty girls are employed in client facing positions such as this. So I expect them to handle anything until it becomes truly offensive.

You work with four men, if things are making you feel uncomfortable, politely ask one of them to attend to the customer. This will send a clear message to everyone around while still serving customers professionally. When you talk to your boss ask him if you can do this and your boss will make that rule for the men to follow.

Secondly talk to an older more experienced lady that you trust and get some advice from her on how to handle it. Perhaps even do this first, because another woman who has been through similar situations would be better able to explain.

From the mens point of view, some men just have bad manners, they're not going to stop unless told to. But usually that is all it takes. So just telling them that it's not a nice thing to say should be enough, if they carry on then by all means bring it to your supervisors attention and let someone else serve them. If they're getting close enough to you to sniff you, then you need to stop letting them.

In terms of your Question, Is it wrong for you to quit? That's purely up to you, if it's something you feel you'll never be able to deal with, then client facing positions where you interact with the general public is probably not the best job for you.

  • 5
    in that case your best recourse is to excuse yourself politely and ask one of the male employees to serve them. What happened is inexcusable behaviour and no one would expect you to put up with it. – Kilisi Nov 20 '15 at 9:40
  • 14
    @Kilisi: "your best recourse is to excuse yourself politely and ask one of the male employees to serve them" -- I mostly disagree with this. It depends on culture what's inexcusable, but assuming it is I think the best recourse is more like your "march them out of the door" suggestion. Tell the customer to stop (or to leave). If they don't, call security to escort them out. Just sending out another staff member risks the customer thinking your company accepts the inexcusable. Above all, though, the company should have a policy so that the individual staff member can act with confidence. – Steve Jessop Nov 20 '15 at 12:41
  • 14
    this answer normalizes sexual harassment. While some parts are good, statements like "see if there is anything the company can do to help you feel more comfortable " and "I expect them to handle anything until it becomes truly offensive." and "talk to an older more experienced lady that you trust and get some advice from her on how to handle it" strongly suggest that this is expected behavior, that the problem exists with the woman, and that it's up to her to change herself. I agree that management should provide more and better support, but not that she should have to change and accept. – Adam Davis Nov 20 '15 at 14:27
  • 6
    @AdamDavis The feminist doctrine of "don't blame the victim, blame society" might be more productive on a grand scale, but on the small scale it doesn't help the victim at all. Fact is that there are personality traits which make individual people more susceptible to harassment and fact is that waiting for the whole society to change is not a solution for the individual victim. Of course it would be great if we could live in a society where harassment doesn't exist, but until we are there, people who don't want to be harassed need to learn to defend themselves verbally and physically. – Philipp Nov 20 '15 at 15:22
  • 5
    Females old enough to be employed full-time are called "women" and not "girls", especially in a professional context (lesser known is that "Lady" is also an unprofessional term). For instance, I note that you never refer to employed males as anything other than "Men", and never as either "boys" nor "Gentlemen".. – RBarryYoung Nov 21 '15 at 4:28
3

Is it wrong for me to quit the job on those standards? I've only worked for a month. But that incident with the male customer hasn't left my mind and I don't know how to bring it up with my employer.

I do think you should consider bringing it up to your boss/employer. I think their reaction will tell you a lot about whether you can expect them to have your back in similar situations in the future. I'm also curious whether any of your fellow male employees were present and if they did anything. That can also tell you a lot about a working environment.

That being said, I've worked at jobs that did not take sexual harassment complaints seriously. After I heard several situations of how dismissive they were of my female colleagues' concerns ("oh he's just joking!" "well you know he is a little weird, he probably didn't mean it like that") and did nothing to even prevent the woman from having to work with and face her harasser every day, I knew it would be pointless to ever make a complaint of my own. If you are already thinking about leaving, and you bring it up and they aren't very supportive, I think that gives you more ammunition. Also if your male colleagues don't have your back, that they don't see you as part of their team, that's not a good vote in favor of staying either.

  • There was a male present at that time, He was in the back room, Once i heard the porn remark. i immediately called him out. I politely asked if he could help this customer while i help his friend out. But even while i quickly finished helping his friend, the man still made some uncomfortable remarks. When they left quickly, i told my co-worker what that man said and all he said was that man was "F" weird. and that with customers like that i should quickly help them and get them on their way. Its been a week since that incident but i can't stop thinking about it. – user44208 Nov 21 '15 at 8:05
2

Is it wrong for me to quit the job on those standards?

No, it's not wrong, and in fact I'd argue it would be unprofessional to complete the training and then quit. If you're determined to find another job, then quitting as soon as you are in a good financial position to do so will allow them to find another person.

If you really care for them and their company, you might consider giving them 2 weeks notice - they may choose to let you go the same day, or they may keep you around for two weeks while they look for a replacement, but don't feel bad if the situation requires you to quit on shorter notice. It's not a good fit for you.

As others have mentioned, you can explain the reasons for leaving. I think it would be worthwhile to mention the exceptional harassment you experienced as a major part of your decision to leave, but since it's not the only reason, and since they can't do anything about the adjacent retailer's odors, there's no reason to try and make this position work for you.

Find another job, continue your education, and don't worry about leaving bad positions. There are new and better opportunities than the one you're currently in.

  • The only reason that it is wrong to quit the job is that she shouldn't be sexually harassed in the first place! – teambob Nov 21 '15 at 7:37
  • @teambob the op specifically asked if it was bad to quit, and was not seeking advice on how to stay or deal with the harassment. While every other answer argues the premise, this one does not. You are free to down vote if you believe that the op is wrong to quit and my answer provides no value, but you might want to consider the question more carefully. Given what the ip has said about the work environment and her comfort level, I don't think this type of job suits her needs. Thank you for your feedback though. – Adam Davis Nov 21 '15 at 13:48
2

They are short staffed because of the environment in the store, unless it is suddenly getting more traffic volume. Even then, confidence, safety, sense of being a team, and the smell are still contributing to what is the employer's staffing problem. Bring it up by asking what company policy and procedure is for dealing with unprofessional situations. Then use that to your advantage, either by staying or leaving as needed.

You need and deserve buy-in from coworkers and management to stop harassment. Regardless of whether they provide it after being documentably made aware of what is happening in-store, the employer has a legal and ethical obligation to prevent a hostile working environment. You are not responsible for the customer being a creep, and it is natural to feel uncomfortable and even unsafe in what should be a socially unnatural situation.

You, and every employee must be responsible for improving your position to deal with unacceptable behavior around and towards you. I find that it helps me (and those I coach de-escalation and call-control skills with) to re-frame the power in these situations. This job has given you a very powerful opportunity to learn to disengage harassment and abusive behavior while furthering social and business needs.

Finding a means to do so in each situation will help you separate your psyche from the target effect of harassment because you are no longer in the "victim" role and instead have actionable steps that will help you serve and empower:

  1. Every business you choose to work with, (whether you stay at this cell phone store or not!) because you will be defining the brand as responsible and stable, while allowing it to focus on the true business.
  2. Your coworkers and, later in your career, employees who report to you.
  3. Other customers in the store, who are also probably feeling uncomfortable and even unsafe when creeps go unchecked, and may leave a negative review, not initiate business, or leave for a competitor.
  4. Everyone else the creep interacts with, as you will be part of a pattern that makes clear what is not "acceptable behavior."

To answer your title question, it is professional to leave a position you cannot fill as the company requires. Even if they effectively support harassment prevention, if the restaurant's smell prevents you from bringing your "A" game and having a reasonable experience outside of work, that's enough reason to look for a transfer to another store or employment elsewhere. Odds are, you wouldn't be the first employee to leave because of a shared HVAC system, so the transfer may be difficult.

To answer the underlying question, there are skills more specific and general than "call the police" or "ask a woman what she does when harassed." We give actionable steps to negotiate salary but haven't actually given actionable steps to stop harassment in months. The community is doing everyone a disservice by failing to mention a few.

I prefer to work in non-face-to-face roles because of the layer of physical safety, and because I can better focus on what the customer is really communicating. Then I can take control of the interaction.

Let's reframe the interaction that you mentioned is haunting you. How I might have taken control if I knew that the loss protection officer could guarantee my physical safety, is to respond that "with [phone company name]'s new 4G network in this area, you can enjoy your favorites with less buffering on [this more expensive phone model]'s HD display. Lets get you set up with [company's go-to service plan]." At this point, you will ideally be positioned behind the counter and visibly ready to pull up his profile and input data. Depending on your workflow, you might start with gathering a name or email. Let's say you need email. "What email address should [phone company] have for you?"

This is the same process that de-escalates irate customers.

  1. Let the customer know you heard them, and move the conversation back onto what the business can do about it.
  2. Because the interaction was inappropriately personal, don't say "we" or "our," say the company's name. In a less creepy interaction, using "our" 4G network may be ok, but here you have another opportunity to draw upon corporate power to control the interaction.
  3. Up-sell. Regardless of whether he eventually buys the expensive phone, this clearly draws a line in the sand that this is a BUSINESS interaction. This also gives him the illusion of control if you allow the sales interaction to focus on the cheaper phone instead, while still demonstrating that you are an effective employee in a cell phone store.
  4. He still hasn't had time to talk or creep more, and now you're off the sales floor and ready to gather the data you need to either get him out of the store with a nice commission or report to the police/corporate if he escalates then runs.
  5. Finish with an open-ended, business-related question, which is CLEARLY FRAMED as a business question only. Gathering contact info is where I most commonly hear creeps try to make things personal again.

Don't follow customers down inappropriate "rabbit trails." If at any stage they become unprofessional again, confidently deliver the relevant facts. Customer service employees can and should draw a hard line. Practice scripting that fits your situation and company policy, which should focus on "to finish [the current business interaction] you need to stay professional. [Restate the question]."

Make clear that unacceptable behavior is unacceptable, and what the customer can expect if they continue that behavior. Then follow through. In call centers, this may mean disconnecting the call after warning that you will do so. It also means notating in the customer's profile or other relevant reporting form what happened and the resolution. In your case, it may mean " We've already established that kind of question is inappropriate and won't get to know me better. You can leave now, Mr. [use his name], or you can get to know Billy, the one in the uniform and vest over there, as you are removed from the store."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.