Prohibited Practices with Customers

Introduction

You may feel as if you are in charge of your business and can run it any way you see fit. Any experienced business owner knows, however, that this is simply not the case. There are any number of federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations that govern the operation of your business and specify prohibited practices with customers. Violate one of these laws or regulations and you could face steep fines and penalties – or even find your business closed. These laws and regulations permeate many areas of a business’s operations, from the way it screens and hires employees, the way it disciplines its employees for workplace violations, and even the way it treats its customers.

Prohibited Practices With Customers

prohibited practices with customersThe customer may not always be right. However, the customer does enjoy some legal protections that business owners must honor. Although violating these protections is not technically a matter of employment law, like an employment law dispute, legal actions filed by customers against businesses can just as easily put a person out of business. Some of the more serious ways in which business owners get themselves into trouble with their customers include:

  • Not protecting private information of customers: Data breaches at Target and other retailers capture headlines, but the truth is that there are many businesses and industries that sell services and goods whose customer databases are a prime target for hackers. In this modern world, business owners need to take appropriate measures to protect their customer’s personal information. What measures need to be taken will depend on the size of the business and the information the business retains on its customers (i.e., a business that has the social security numbers and birthdates of its customers should be expected to take more serious measures than a business that simply has customer names and telephone numbers).

  • Discriminating against customers: Do you remember the legal trouble that certain bakers found themselves in for refusing to bake a cake for the wedding of a gay couple? Those incidents raised serious discussions about whether a business could refuse service to a customer. Federal and state laws on the issue are constantly in flux, but since the 1960s and the passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act in 1964, places of “public accommodation” like hotels, banks, theaters, and stores cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, and/or national origin (nonprofit groups like most churches would be exempt from the federal law). The recent Obergefell decision will likely mean places of “public accommodation” would not be able to discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation, either. There are exceptions to these anti-discrimination laws, but usually these exceptions require the business owner to apply his or her policy of refusing service to a particular group consistently and universally. So, for instance, a business can have a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy so long as the business is consistent in its application and does not, for example, exclude a Muslim or transgender individual for not wearing a shirt or shoes but allows other members of the public to enter and use the business’s goods and/or services when these other individuals are not wearing shoes or a shirt.

Treat Everyone Fairly

A good practice for business owners who own places of “public accommodation” is to treat individual customers fairly and with respect. Do not single out one group for “special treatment” unless you have a valid, legal, and compelling reason to do so. Recognize that anti-discrimination laws may be a patchwork of local, state, and/or federal laws that impact what you can and cannot do with your potential customers. Always draw your workplace policies in consultation with experienced employment attorneys.