Spa Client Constantly Harassing Spa Employee

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about harassment by customer: My manager and director (69 yrs old) are white as well as the client (looks about 60 yrs old). I am a 22 yr old, African American female.

I work at a spa in Georgia and have been verbally harassed by one of the spa’s clients every time she comes into the spa. This has happened on more than 4 occasions. Each time this has happened, I went to my spa director and asked that she speak with this client and demand that she stops harassing me. Each time I am told that because the client spends a lot of money that I should just “ignore it.” So over the last three months, I tried to ignore it.

But today, the client comes into the spa, stands right in front of my desk (after being helped by another front desk coordinator), and once I make eye contact with her, she stares at me, looks me up and down, then rolls her eyes and walks off. About 10 minutes later, she comes back up to the desk and my manager happens to be standing beside me. The client loudly says to my manager, “I can’t believe you all hired that girl (in reference to me).” She says this in while the room is filled with other costumers and never does my manager stop the client from bad mouthing me. I was so embarrassed I started shaking. I could barely talk to the other clients. It’s now hours later and I am still shook up about this. I am fed up because for one, I have gone out of my way to make this client happy when she comes into the spa. I am also the only minority that works at the front desk.

My manager and director (69 yrs old) are white as well as the client (looks about 60 yrs old). I am a 22 yr old, African American female. I feel as though she is personally attacking me. I have asked my job to do something about this 4 times and nothing has changed. I have gone over every encounter I’ve had with this client in my head, trying to figure out why she hates me so much. In the 4 yrs that I’ve worked in the spa industry, I have NEVER, not once, had anyone (client/co-worker) complain to my boss, call corporate, or harass me. This client is absolutely attacking me. What should I do? Should I call my HR department? Can I file a harassment suit against the client or my job? I have no idea what I can and cannot do in this situation. Please help. Thank you!

Signed, Fed Up

DearĀ Fed Up:

I don’t blame you for feeling that you’ve put up with too much for too long! It seems almost impossible that someone would be allowed to talk to you in that way without anything being said to make it stop. On the other hand, nothing you describe sounds racial in tone, no matter what you might think has caused it. It may be that other comments would support that allegation, but just general rudeness would be hard to link to racial bias. And sadly, many people are incredibly rude. It sounds to me as though the client thinks your attire or personal style doesn’t fit the style of the spa. Why she would express it so obviously is a big question. You might ask your coworkers if they have an opinion on why she has targeted you. And, while you’re at it, ask for their support if they are present and she does it again.

There are a number of options for action, according to whether or not you want to continue to work there and how much energy and money you want to spend on the matter. You could talk to an attorney and ask if you have any civil recourse. You might be able to get a free consultation with a paralegal or an attorney to find that out. For that interview to be most successful it would be very helpful to have dates and comments clearly documented. If you don’t, try to duplicate the dates and comments….and start now with regular documentation. We’re not a legal source, so we can’t advise you about all of that, but it would seem to me that some law firm would be interested in the challenge of deciding if a customer can create a liability for an employer in that way.

The least difficult way for you to handle it at the spa would be to have others at the desk let you know–or you could track it yourself–when the client will be coming in. Then, simply leave the area until she is gone. That solution is one that would solve the problem and give you a break as well! If your boss finds it a problem for you to be away from the front desk, ask her to stand near you and stand up for you, otherwise you can’t be there.You could talk once more to your supervisor and ask why she didn’t support you in this latest scenario. (I’m surprised the other customers didn’t speak up!) Tell her that you don’t think it’s right and you must have some support or you’ll have to get advice from H.R. Or, you could contact HR for the spa corporation and explain what has been happening and how you’ve tried to handle it without going higher. Then, ask for assistance in making sure you are treated with respect by clients, coworkers and your manager. That will likely get attention.

If you’re truly fed up, you may want to take the risk and the next time the woman says something, say, “Please don’t talk to me that way. It’s very hurtful to me and makes me feel bad.” If she complains to your manager, you can explain to your manager that you waited for help from those in charge, but when that didn’t happen you had to do something on your own. No matter what she says back, just keep repeating it. “It makes me feel bad, so please stop.” You could confront her in that way whether or not your boss was present. If your boss is there, you might even say to your boss,”Could you please help me with this?” At least that way you’d have a clear answer about whether you can depend upon her! There is no easy answer to this, if your boss won’t help. What she SHOULD do is tell the client that unless she can be courteous to you and others, she’s not welcome at the spa. If she won’t do that, you will have to rely on either asking for legal help (that could be costly very quickly), avoiding the client, contacting HR and asking for assistance, or handling it yourself more directly.

At the worst you may not be able to stay employed in that spa–but I would hate for you to leave and give her satisfaction about it.It sounds as though you’re a mature person with a good sense of how to deal with this in a reasonable and courteous way while you try to stop her unreasonable discourtesy. I do think you’ll need to escalate this past talking to your boss, but you might want to try one more time.Best wishes with it. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.