Hair Salon Employees in New York City and Nationwide Fight Back Against Workplace Sexual Harassment by Customers

Sexual harassment unfortunately remains a pervasive problem in workplaces all over the country and the world. Different types of workplaces present distinct challenges for employees who simply want to do their jobs free from unwanted sexual overtures and advances. Although many common images of sexual harassment involve inappropriate conduct by a supervisor toward an employee, perpetrators can also include co-workers and customers. Employers have a duty to protect employees once they are aware, or should be aware, that sexual harassment is happening. An article from early 2016 in the online publication Mic discusses sexual harassment against hair salon employees by customers, and it notes how working conditions in hair salons can place the burden on the employee to fight back.

Employment statutes at the federal, state, and city levels do not specifically define “sexual harassment,” but they all treat it as a form of prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex. Courts have found that, in order for sexual harassment in the workplace to be actionable, it must be more than “merely offensive,” but it does not need to be so severe that it “cause[s] a tangible psychological injury.” Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993). This is obviously not a precise definition, since it depends on multiple factors that vary from one case to another. As a general rule, however, inappropriate sexual conduct crosses the line into sexual harassment or a hostile work environment when it “would reasonably be perceived, and is perceived, as hostile or abusive.” Id. at 22.

Employers are responsible for providing reasonable safeguards for their employees against sexual harassment by customers. It ought to go without saying that nothing excuses or justifies sexual harassment by a customer, but the Mic article identifies certain features of hair salons that arguably make employees more vulnerable. One hair stylist quoted in the article notes that she works in “one of the few non-sexual professions that have to touch their clients.” Another stated that “salons can be boundary-less environments riddled with dysfunction.” No matter what the specific interpersonal dynamics are within a particular salon, the duty to protect workers remains the same.

Hair stylists who want to assert their legal rights against workplace sexual harassment must take several affirmative steps, including reporting concerns to a supervisor or manager. If the employer, now aware of the situation, fails to make an effort to remedy it, it could be liable if the harassment continues.

Before getting to this point, however, a hair stylist must determine the extent of their protection under the various anti-discrimination statutes. These laws protect employees from sexual harassment, but many salons classify stylists as independent contractors who merely rent a chair while they are working. Salons still have a duty to provide a safe working environment, but without the employer/employee relationship, liability is more likely under tort law than anti-discrimination statutes.

The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent employees, job seekers, and former employees in New York City, helping them assert their rights in claims for unlawful workplace practices like sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and skilled legal team.

More Blog Posts:

Hair, Nail Salons Agree to Pay Workers to Settle Accusations of Minimum Wage, Labor Law Violations, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 26, 2015

Hairdresser Files $16M Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Upscale New York Salon, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 28, 2011

Greenwich Salon Accused of Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 7, 2011

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