Standing By Assaulted Employees

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - June 27, 2007
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The young, attractive African-American woman raged as she helped me with my items. She couldn’t believe that in this day and age a customer had called her the “N” word.

Not once, but several times. She couldn’t believe that she had reported the customer to her bosses and they had done nothing.

This particular customer had just come in and insulted her again, and the young woman was outraged.

She was venting to me, a stranger, not because she thought I could do something about it but because she just couldn’t hold in her frustration.

But more than that, I could see the hurt and bewilderment in her eyes. Her bosses weren’t sticking up for her - they weren’t supporting her against something ugly and indecent. I used to like my job, she told me, but now I don’t even want to be here anymore.

Who can blame her?

I thought about it all the way home. I was angry for her, hurt for her, and upset that an employer would allow an employee to be abused in that way.

What kind of impression was this young woman - who apparently was new to Hawaii - getting about our so-called Aloha State?

Would the employer have allowed a customer to punch or push or otherwise physically assault one of their workers?

Why was verbal assault tolerated?

There may have been reasons she and I don’t know about. Perhaps the managers know that the offending customer has a mental illness - Tourrette’s syndrome or some other ailment that she can’t help. In that case they should explain it to their employee.

I’m pretty sure she would understand.

But say this customer is just a mean-spirited racist taking out her bile on a helpless girl?

I spoke with some people, managers and owners of businesses who have experience dealing with difficult customers and clients. The problems they encountered varied, from unwanted sexual advances toward female workers, to insults, to yelling.

These bosses handled the situations by first talking to the erring customer.

If the bad behavior persisted, all the managers said they would ask the customer to leave.

As a last resort they would sever ties with the customer and ban him or her from their establishment.

All the managers told me the same thing - no one has the right to abuse the staff. The customer is not always right. Employees shouldn’t have to check their self-respect at the door when they punch their time clocks.

It’s bad policy, bad for morale and it’s not the kind of place I’d want to work at or even patronize.

One of the managers I spoke with said the girl should talk to the human resource person. It’s their job to work out issues like this one.

But if the company doesn’t have one I think she should have another talk with her managers. Let them know how she

feels. Perhaps they have an explanation she can live with, or will understand how deeply she was offended.

I hope the young woman does-n’t think this is acceptable behavior in Hawaii.

We are a bit more casual about race here, but I really can’t think of any instance where calling someone the “N’ word is acceptable.


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