I was standing in line at the customer service window at a small neighborhood grocery store when the phone beeped. 

One of the reps behind the desk excused herself and answered the phone, and immediately the person on the other line went into a verbal tirade.  The caller was so loud that I could hear them from across the desk. Had I not been able to mostly hear what this caller was yelling about, the shock on the poor girl’s face was enough to relay that the call was not a positive one.  She could not get a word in edgewise while the booming voice continued his verbal attack for several minutes.  I stood dumbfounded as the other person behind the counter did nothing to assist the abused co-worker.  When it was my time for assistance I commented that I would be happy to wait because she obviously needed help. 

the shock on the poor girl’s face was enough to relay that the call was not a positive one

The supervisor looked at me sheepishly and stated, “Unfortunately, we are not permitted to interrupt.” Further into the conversation I learned that the company policy was that they were not allowed to hang up on a customer... EVER. There were no protocols in place to protect the staff from verbal abuse over the phone. The customer service rep would only have options once the caller began to issue threats, at which time security would be called, but until then she was on her own.

I spent many years in Customer service, and there were times when I was handling a call where I needed to tell the customer “I understand that you are upset, but if you can’t control your language I’m going to have to disconnect.”   We also had a panic button where we could call a supervisor if a customer became abusive, so a supervisor could step in and handle the situation.    

The problem with a policy that does not empower the employees, is that the company is putting themselves at risk.  *HR Hero, is a website dedicated to Employment Law.  Their article states that “Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as other employment laws, employers must create and maintain a harassment-free workplace.”  By empowering your employees to protect themselves you are also protecting yourself as an employer. 

For example: The EEOC handled cases involving the Grocery chain Fred Meyer in 2007, 2008 and again in 2014 due to complaints against a customer that was repeatedly harassing employees.  **EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado was quoted in their 5/5/14 press release.  "Employers are responsible for ensuring a harassment-free workplace for their employees, regardless if the harasser is a co-worker, manager or customer.  There should be no tolerance for repeat offenders and serial harassers."

Giving your employees the power to say no to abuse does not give them the power to be rude or disrespectful. It simply gives them the chance to say no to a customer who is crossing the line of acceptable behavior.  By providing policies and training to protect your employees, you give them the freedom to step out of volatile situations and allow them to direct their energies to more productive interactions.

By instating rules that prevent employees from protecting themselves, you are endangering them and your company. There are times when a bad rule is more dangerous to a company than no rule at all.







** https://www1.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/5-5-14a.cfm



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