For the hotel industry − with its people-centric culture and diverse working environments − preventing sexual harassment and creating a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace can be a challenge. Of course, no sector is immune to the pervasive problem of workplace harassment, and in the wake of #MeToo we’ve seen (and continue to see), high-profile allegations of sexual harassment across industries.
Addressing and preventing workplace harassment requires a holistic approach that strikes the right balance of policies, procedures, training tailored to the industry and workforce, leadership’s commitment, accountability and culture. Here are four steps that can help hotels (and any organization, really) advance their efforts to prevent sexual harassment and create a safe, respectful environment for all employees and guests.
- Ensure employees understand what constitutes sexual harassment
Effective anti-harassment programs should clear up any confusion employees may have about what kind of behaviors constitute sexual harassment. At the federal level, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. However, sexual harassment doesn’t have to be of a sexual nature. Offensive remarks about a person’s sex or about women in general can constitute illegal harassment.
Bad behavior becomes harassment when it is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with a person’s job performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. Conduct is also considered sexual harassment when it’s used as a term or condition of employment. For example, offering a job or promotion to someone in exchange for a sexual favor or threatening them with a demotion or termination if they reject a request for a sexual favor. And importantly, employees need to understand that anyone can be a harasser or target of harassment, regardless of their sex, gender or position.
- Reassure employees they won’t face retaliation for reporting harassment
A fear of retaliation prevents many employees from reporting incidents of harassment, even though the law protects them from being retaliated against for filing a good-faith complaint of harassment or participating in an investigation. Retaliation, like harassment, can take many forms, such as firing, demoting, reassigning and disciplining, as well as spreading false rumors, making threats and denying benefits. Year after year, retaliation is the most frequently filed charge with the EEOC, underscoring the need to train employees in supervisory roles on how to recognize and avoid retaliatory behavior and respond promptly to complaints.
- Train employees on bystander intervention techniques
Since the #MeToo movement, more organizations are seeking new ways to revamp and expand their anti-harassment training programs to incorporate topics such as bystander intervention, unconscious bias and diversity and inclusion. Bystander intervention training was called out by the former co-chair of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace as a potential game changer in the workplace. By teaching employees different techniques to safely intervene, either directly or indirectly, when they see a co-worker being harassed, bystander intervention training can foster a sense of collective responsibility by empowering employees to be engaged bystanders in preventing harassment.
- Promote leadership’s commitment to a strong workplace culture
The notion of “tone at the top” is more than a cliché when it comes to shaping workplace culture, which has the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, preventing it, according to the EEOC’s harassment task force. A CEO who leads by example sends a strong, consistent message that creating a respectful, inclusive culture is a core value and priority, and that everyone is accountable for their actions.
Preventing sexual harassment in the hospitality industry can be a particular challenge, given its people-centric culture and unique working environment. The good news is today more organizations are aware of the impact of harassment on staff and other aspects of the business and are implementing policies, procedures and training programs to drive positive behavior and create a safe, respectful workplace culture for all employees and guests.