Customer rudeness spreads, but businesspeople won’t tolerate it

During the December holidays a cashier looked unhappy. She conceded that 1) a customer had spit on her and 2) this is common behavior toward all cashiers beginning at Thanksgiving.

I knew there was no human resources office on site, but what about a security guard?

“No,” she said.

Customer abuse of employees isn’t new. Neither are employers who abrogate responsibility. Are employees stranded?

Scott Behren, employment attorney at Behren Law Firm in Weston, Fla., says: “Spitting is battery and I recommend calling the police. … They’d probably respond (faster) than HR, an employer or a lawyer.”

Tara Fishler, founder of Customized Training Solutions in New York, concurs.

“I’d advise the person or colleague with a cellphone to take a picture of the customer and possibly try to get the license plate number, if the person drove,” she says. “Document the incident immediately and, if possible, have other employees or customers corroborate. Ideally, the employee should inform the owner/manager as soon as possible. If the owner/manager can’t or won’t handle the situation to the employee’s satisfaction, report to the police.”

A member of a large Illinois police department said that while this incident, if intentional, is a misdemeanor battery in his state, it might be an assault elsewhere. He added that if the offender is still on scene and the victim will cooperate with the investigation, sign complaints and appear in court, an officer may make an arrest. If the offender has left the premises, an arrest isn’t mandatory without a name, address and birth date. However, a warrant officer may be able to retrieve that information from a license so that the victim may seek a summons or an arrest warrant.


While not meeting customers in person might protect you from spitting, it doesn’t protect you from other abuse. Some employers don’t tolerate it. Dave Munson, president of Saddleback Leather Co. LLC, a leather goods business in San Antonio, has encountered verbal abuse over shipment deliveries and unwillingness to add something free, such as upgraded shipping, to an order.

“We installed a button to fire a customer,” he continues, “which flags their email, mailing address and credit card number. They get this message: ‘Yours is not going through.’ ”

However, before the button, he fired by telephone.

“A fellow called about the picture he was going to send in of his new Saddleback Leather briefcase on his Rolls-Royce,” Munson says. “He told me about how important he was, (then) became demeaning, bitter and demanding.”

How did Munson respond? He said: “You know, I don’t think you’ll ever be happy owning one of my bags and, honestly, I don’t want people like you owning them. I want nice and kind people carrying my things. So, I’m going to refund all of your money.”

Sandy Bodeau, owner of Sira & Mara Accessories, a Smyrna, Del., jeweler, doesn’t have a button but does take over. Her business communicates by email.

“If one of my (employees) is crying because a person has been insulting her,” she says, “I don’t care how much money that person is spending with us.”

She asks people to change their language or their communication will end.

“Most American businesses are permitting people to be jerks (and be) rewarded for wrong behavior,” Munson says. “We’re standing up and doing our little part to change that.”

Dr. Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at © 2014 Passage Media.

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