A Customer Won't Work with My Gay Employee. Is That Discrimination?

A Kantola Learning Minute

Is the customer always right? What about when the customer doesn't want to work with an employee because of that employee’s sexual orientation? Is that discrimination? Find out in this week's Kantola Learning Minute with workplace trainer Linda Garrett, JD.

Hi, I'm Linda Garrett with a Kantola Learning Minute. We have a letter from an HR Director in a state that recently added sexual orientation to the list of protected characteristics, effectively making it an illegal employment practice to discriminate against or harass a gay or lesbian applicant or employee.

She say, "I know we haven't made a practice of ever discriminating against LGBT people here, but now that this law has passed the owner of my company is suddenly up in arms and just came into my office to tell me that 'The customer is always right, and if a customer doesn't want a gay repairman, we're not going to send a gay repairman, period.'"

Well, I'm glad you wrote because this really does require us to reexamine that old adage that the customer is always right, and what the customer wants, the customer gets. The truth is that old adage isn't really true in all situations. If the customer wants you to do something that would violate the law, you need to clearly state that what they are asking is not something you are willing to do.

Sadly, we are recently seeing a resurgence of all forms of discrimination directed at our employees from customers and clients. For example, in healthcare, we see articles in medical journals describing situations where patients insist on talking to a real doctor when greeted by a physician who is of a different ethnicity or from a different cultural background.

The important thing is that your employees know where you stand and that you are there to back them up. Discuss the situation with the employee to find out how they'd like you to handle it. Certainly, you don't want to send someone into a dangerous situation. From time to time do mini-trainings where you point out that you want everyone to know that you will not tolerate discrimination or harassment whether by coworkers, clients, vendors, suppliers, or customers, and tell your employees what they should do if they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation working off-site.

I hope this helps, and thank you for joining us today.

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