We have all seen the videos online. The entitled men and women who have been infamously named “Karen.” Karens are seen to berate employees of all sorts of businesses for not doing their bidding. For the sake of this article, the customer doing the harassment will be referred to as Karen. In most cases, the employees are acting within their company policy and all reasonable human expectations.
While it may seem like there has been an increase in these incidents, perhaps Will Smith’s words ring true, “they are just being filmed.” There are more smartphones and digital devices on the planet today than ever before. It means that we get to witness things that we may have read or heard about.
Human nature demands a disbelief in most cases. Video evidence forces us to pay attention to what some of us have long denied. How do we deal with customer harassment?
What to do about customer harassment as an employee?
Karen is in your face screaming obscenities! God forbid, she starts swinging. What is the best course of action? Where possible, you want to deescalate the situation. The last thing you need is for it to become a shouting competition. In most cases, Karen will out shout you. If you win, she will play the victim. So, if you win, you still lose.
Do not match heightened energy. Maintain your composure, as difficult as it may be. Breathe a “woo-sa.” You tried to be reasonable and calm, but Karen is still being Karen; what’s next? Your effort may go to waste, but at least you tried.
Step away from the situation, if possible. Let one of your colleagues take over if you can find a saint that calmer than you, even better.
What not to do?
Allow any customer to continue to take their frustrations out on you. You are not a rock. We all know “customer is always right,” but some “customers are just wrong!”
Do not get physical with the customer. If you have security persons available, get them involved as soon as de-escalation attempts fail.
This is not to say let customers beat you where you stand. You have every right to defend yourself. The keyword there being “defend.” It should only be in response to an attack.
What to do about customer harassment as a customer?
We have seen that other customers are one of the best ways to deal with a Karen. Speak up for those who are being harassed. The best way to deal with customer harassment is through prevention.
This is where a good establishment really helps customers. If there are policies in place that are enforced, it will limit the behavior of Karen. You would be amazed at how many establishments do not enforce their own rules and policies.
The thing is, Karen needs to know that she does not have power over you or anyone else dealing with her. If she does, you are not using your voice to let her know that it’s not going to fly.
It includes other customers stepping in to let the harasser know that they must leave an establishment when asked to.
The right to deny service
It is the right of every business to deny service to any person. However, as the customer, you also have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.
This was recently addressed in a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It said that “denying service on discriminatory grounds is not a First Amendment right.” The ruling continued to say that “while the bar may serve gay customers or even employ gay people, it had no constitutional right to exclude them under its ‘right of free association.
It is not the right to discriminate. If anything, it is the right to facilitate an environment that is safe for employees and comfortable for patrons.
Employees’ Right To Safety in the workplace
Let’s remember that employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment. The customers may not have a right to service, but the employees do. An employer is not allowed to use the threat of violence as a tool to control staff.
If you are an employee in fear for your safety, you may seek law enforcement assistance. You should also contact your human resources department.
In some cases, employees are asked to “work around” Karen to avoid confrontation.
While this may seem like a good idea, it devalues your staff. Karen will leave, and they will remain. It is important that they feel safe and protected at work.
Harassment is a crime
While it may not be a crime to harass a customer, it is a crime to harass an employee. If you are the victim of customer harassment, the best thing to do is contact your law enforcement agency.
If you are harassed by another customer, your best bet may be calling the police and then addressing the issue with management.
Your law enforcement agency will handle the case, as well as notify any appropriate licensing agencies involved. In some states, violations by licensees can cost an establishment its liquor license.