Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment... those two words conjure up a myriad of images... interns, coke cans, big lawsuits, headaches the size of Texas. In the hospitality industry, we really need to pay attention.Those two words conjure up a myriad of images... interns, coke cans, big lawsuits, headaches the size of Texas. In the hospitality industry, we really need to pay attention. The glamour and glory of foodservice can quickly give way to lewdness and stupidity.

Consider this: On average, more charges alleging sexual harassment and discrimination are filed against the restaurant industry than against all other industries, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Sex-related discrimination and harassment is the No. 1 charge, comprising more than 44% of all charges filed against restaurants with the EEOC over the last eight years.

As employers, you have a serious responsibility to maintain a workplace free of unlawful harassment. And while you cannot always prevent harassment from happening, how you react and deal with a complaint can save you from serious liability. This Trade Secret is meant to provide you with some guidelines and suggested steps for creating, updating or reinforcing your harassment policy. We're not providing legal advice. We are giving you some ideas about where and how to start. Speak with legal counsel for the final word on your protocols, policies and procedures.

Teach and train
To prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and thus a potential lawsuit, every operation must have specific and consistent training for all new employees. In fact, due to the many legal nuances, changing laws, and technical issues, experts advise restaurateurs to hire an outside human-resources expert to train employees. If this isn't possible for you, there are training materials and videos available to you from your state and national restaurant association, as well as independent companies. 

Policy handbook
Your employee and management policy handbooks should contain clear and concise text that defines and addresses harassment in the workplace. During orientation, new employees should be given a copy of the handbook, have the harassment policy reviewed with them, and sign off that they have read, understood, and had the opportunity to discuss the policy. This step is non-negotiable in protecting yourself in the event of a lawsuit and proving that you took reasonable care to educate your staff.

Tactful termination
In the event that an employee must be terminated, make sure that your reasons are strictly related to job performance — not related at anything that could be considered sexual harassment. For example, if a supervisor is terminating a waitress because she won't go out with him, that's illegal. Avoid even the appearance of harassment.

Resolution, not litigation
Many employers have well-defined policies in place, but trouble begins with how they handle harassment complaints. Many are held accountable because when a problem was reported, the incident was just "brushed off." Others lack a clear process for their employees to make complaints, or for management to investigate and follow-through.

Protect yourself against harassment litigation and liability. To help, we've detailed some common definitions of harassment and case studies of harassment lawsuits involving restaurants, and some customizable policy templates, policy sign-off's and a harassment survey .


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