Nobody likes sitting next to the rude customer yelling in the restaurant, but to the server, it's not just awkward: it's bullying.

Labour relations lawyer Thomas Roper says workplace bullying — from colleagues and customers — is a too-frequent occurrence in the hospitality industry.

He says it could be caused in part by customers who feel entitled to treat workers poorly.

"It's sort of the idea that I'm paying for this service so I get to say what I want. Or it's in an alcohol context where people are looser with their language," he told All Points West host Robyn Burns.

"The idea that the customer's always right is a problem. Employers need to deal with customers the same way they deal with anyone else who was harassing or bullying their employees."

Roper says employers have a legal obligation to put policies into place to investigate and deal with complaints of workplace harassment and bullying.

He says not only are there potential legal liabilities for not doing so, employers face damage to their reputation, which can hurt their ability to hire and retain the best employees.

"You're not going to grow the business if you lose employees," he said.

Roper says it may sometimes come down to telling some customers they are no longer welcome.

"Every employer needs to deliver on the complaint, not bury it, not ignore it," he said. "Bullying and harassment are simply bad for business. That's what employers need to understand."

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: In hospitality, customers a big cause of workplace bullying