Whether you are last minute shopping or merely intend to do some shopping during the busiest shopping time of the season, we all know that stores become packed. This includes lines of people longer than normal, harried store associates racing to re-stock shelves and answer questions, and customers becoming less patient. It’s the last symptom that brings forward my trite recommendation for this holiday season: Be Kind. This mantra is used year-round for various purposes – believe me, I too roll my eyes – but in the context of an at-will employee diligently working during the winter, it makes sense to be reminded and here’s why. In my last blog I looked at how holiday hours are only beneficial if you can and do work overtime hours. This blog is about how workers are treated during those busy holiday hours by customers and store management.
If you have ever had to work in any kind of customer service position or retail job, then you are aware that the holiday season brings a type of dread with it. Most customer service based positions and almost all retail positions are hourly employment jobs and deemed to be at-will. At-will employment in Texas means that there is no job protection for these workers, and they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. For example, take Rhonda – a cashier – putting in her very best efforts, battling the long lines of patrons and getting them through the checkout line as quickly as she possibly can. Drake, her manager, who is upset at how many customers are complaining during the holiday season, may not care about Rhonda’s best efforts. All he hears and cares about are the customers complaints over the predictably long lines. After being on her feet all day, and even working overtime hours with the store staying open late, Rhonda could be fired. Rhonda would have no recourse if her unreasonable manager terminated her employment for a legitimate non-discriminatory reason like customer complaints about long lines in front of her cash register.
Aside from her manager’s obtuse lack of understanding about the holiday shopping season, Rhonda may feel some modicum of relief at being relieved of her job duties. It may be shocking to think that someone losing their job during the middle of the holiday season would have any benefits, but the silver lining for Rhonda may be the fact that she no longer has to put on a happy face as customers continually berate her.
We’ve all seen the situation where a customer yells at an employee and tensions are high. The employee is trying to do their best to accommodate the irate customer, but nothing will be enough. In these situations, as long as the customer is not acting against the employee based on a protected characteristics (e.g., race, gender, age, or disability), the law offers no job protections for retail workers. Rhonda, before Drake terminated her, could have complained to him that the customers had been awful to her all day. In particular, she could say that the rude customer, let’s call him Rude-y, screamed at her in front of the whole store. While Rhonda was restocking shelves, Rude-y approached her in a hurry because he made the personal decision to wait until the last minute to shop. Since Rhonda typically did not stock the shelves, she couldn’t answer Rude-y’s question right away so he began to yell at her. Even though she recounted that situation to Drake, Texas law does not compel employers to do anything or provide any protections to workers like Rhonda when they are abused by customers.
Therefore, the adage “the customer is always right,” is certainly not always right. In these situations, the customer is absolutely wrong. Their actions may not be unlawful, but they may be rude, outlandish, and beyond acceptable societal standards. Sadly, these actions by customers may result in an employee being left without a job and without recourse under Texas law. So, as a customer flooding into stores to do last minute holiday shopping, please be kind.