Anyone who has worked in restaurants knows sexual harassment is rampant in the industry. Some explain it away as the nature of the restaurant business, but it is essential to take a harder line on sexual harassment to protect your employees and your business. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also the legal thing to do.
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Based on this act, the EEOC defines sexual harassment as, “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidation, hostile or offensive work environment.”
DISCLAIMER ALERT: I want to be clear that I am not an attorney. The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or replace legal counsel. I recommend you contact local legal counsel before implementing any harassment prevention program to ensure it addresses all federal requirements and is effective in the state you conduct business.
Your responsibility as a restaurant owner is to first prevent sexual harassment and/or discrimination. Next, when it occurs, you must take IMMEDIATE, CORRECTIVE, REMEDIAL ACTION.
You must do this because:
- It can cost you your business
- You are personally liable
- It’s not a matter if, but a matter of when a sexual harassment claim will be made
Start with a sexual harassment prevention policy and communicate it to all employees. I recommend doing this over and over again, in the employee handbook, in pre-shift meetings, posted to the employee bulletin board.
Keep in mind the policy applies to owners and managers as well. Lead by example to show the policy cannot be violated. Don’t tell inappropriate jokes if your policy says there will be no inappropriate jokes shared in the workplace. If you don’t follow the policy, you virtually render your policy worthless.
Hold training workshops with managers at least annually and immediately after any claims. Cover your harassment prevention policy is, what their responsibilities are, how to handle a claim and the legal ramifications.
Lastly, provide a mechanism for employees to complain and to not have to complain first to their direct supervisor because the person who may be accused of sexual harassment may be their direct supervisor. So, your process needs to allow complainants to go above their direct supervisor’s head, so to speak. NOTE: Going above the restaurant owner’s head is the EEOC!
Policy for Addressing Complaints
The law is very clear when it comes to what you are supposed to do when a sexual harassment claim is made: take immediate, corrective, remedial action.
Step 1 (IMMEDIATE)
Once a claim is brought to your attention, you must investigate the claim. Please note immediate means as soon as it’s reasonably possible. Restaurants have lost sexual harassment cases, even after they did everything right, because they took too long to start the process.
Aim to start the process within a day or two and get a statement from complainant, the alleged perpetrator, and any co-workers who witnessed the incident.
Step 2 (Make a decision)
Once you have completed your investigation, you are judge, jury and executioner. You have to decide if what was claimed happened or not.
Step 3 (DOCUMENT)
DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT! You get the picture.
Step 4 (CORRECTIVE, REMEDIAL ACTION)
Once you have decided if harassment has occurred or not, you need to resolve the situation with an action “reasonably calculated to end the sexual harassment, discrimination, etc.”
Step 5 (Notify)
You will then have to notify the complainant what you found and tell them what you have done to end the sexual harassment and make sure it will not happen again. Please urge the complainant to continue to communicate as necessary.
Step 6 (Don’t publicize)
You need to make sure that those involved in the investigation, from the managers to the complainant to those interviewed, do not publicize any details of the investigation or incident in question.
Otherwise, even if sexual harassment did not occur, you will create a hostile work environment and/or a situation where retaliation sexual harassment will have occurred.
Step 7 (Hold meetings)
As we discussed earlier, hold workshops or meetings with your supervisors and managers to review policies to prevent harassment from happening in the future.
Let this information empower you. No matter how good a job you do, odds are it will happen. Be prepared.