By: Rob Parker

Among several definitions of the word shakedown is “extortion, as by blackmail or threats of violence.”  While the situation detailed below did not rise to the level of threats of violence, the employer certainly felt as though it was being extorted or blackmailed. Are you prepared for such a scenario?

An employer received a call one afternoon from a customer who alleged that he had been touched inappropriately by an employee.  This employer takes this type of complaint very seriously — as any employer should. In speaking with the customer, the employers gathered as much information as to the location and time of the alleged incident as possible.  The employer obtained and viewed surveillance footage of the location and approximate time of the occurrence.  It was clear from the video that the employee did, indeed, touch the customer inappropriately.

The very next day, HR met with the employee regarding the incident and the employee was discharged due to her conduct.  The day after the employee’s termination the employer received a call from the customer requesting a meeting. The customer also stated that he was seeking monetary restitution from the employer due to the touching incident.  The employer told the customer that they would get back to him and called NAE for guidance.

The incident raised the following questions by the employer:

  1. Are they obligated to meet with the customer?
  2. Are they obligated to consider compensating the customer? If not, would it be in their best interest to do so?
  3. What if the customer tries to record the meeting? Can they refuse?

The employer decided to meet with the customer.  When the customer arrived, he was accompanied by his mother, who intended to sit in on the meeting. As the customer was at least 21 years of age, the employer asked that the mother wait outside while they met with the customer.  Two HR representatives were present for the meeting.  The customer insisted on recording the conversation with his smartphone, which HR allowed.  They had decided in advance that they would not resist such a request as they had nothing to hide and it would only exacerbate the situation.

The customer was persistent in his demand for restitution.  He told HR that paying him now would be a lot less expensive than getting attorneys involved.  HR explained that this was an employment matter and that they took prompt and appropriate action to resolve the issue.  They told him that they would not be compensating him, but apologized for what had happened.  The customer said “alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

The customer has not followed through on his threat of legal action. Whether he will or not is unclear.

What can other employers learn from this situation? There is no legal obligation to meet with a third-party under these circumstances.  However, the employer felt that meeting with the customer would show that it takes these matters seriously.  It is always advisable to consult with legal counsel to discuss the specific facts of the situation before meeting. Also, while termination may not always be the best option, it was the appropriate resolution for this scenario.

NAE assists members with difficult scenarios like these everyday. It is our goal to provide our members with workable solutions to real life problems. We know it’s not easy. That’s why we are here to help. Interested in membership? Contact NAE today!