February 8, 2019

Preventing sexual harassment in the restaurant business has been an industry-wide challenge well before the media exposed numerous allegations against celebrity chefs and restaurateurs. Restaurants are unlike other workplaces. Interactions with co-workers, as well as with customers, suppliers and visitors, can be more casual than other work environments, which can lead to inappropriate behavior and costly harassment claims, if left unchecked.

Here are five steps restaurant businesses can take to reduce the risk of workplace harassment and promote a safe, respectful and inclusive work culture.

    1. Create a written anti-harassment policy and enforce it
      A written anti-harassment policy and code of conduct should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment – and all forms of discrimination and harassment is unacceptable and illegal. Policies should explain the organization’s reporting procedures and the consequences for anyone who engages in harassment or fails to report it. Anti-harassment policies should also emphasize that individuals who speak up when experiencing or observing harassment will be protected from retaliation from supervisors and co-workers. It’s also important that policies are kept up to date with federal, state and local laws and requirements.
    2. Conduct regular sexual harassment training for all employees
      In its study of workplace harassment, a task force convened by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said that regular, interactive training customized to the organization and its workforce is an essential step for effectively addressing and preventing harassment. (See Traliant’s training on Preventing Discrimination and Harassment for Restaurants). Training should focus on encouraging positive behavior and raising awareness and understanding of the different types of sexual harassment, and its harmful impact on the organization, staff and customers, with real-world video scenarios and practical steps. Additionally, training should teach employees how to respond to inappropriate behavior as active bystanders, who can potentially interrupt offensive behavior and help prevent future incidents.
    1. Take complaints seriously
      Whether it’s a chef harassing a line cook or a customer harassing a server, organizations have a legal responsibility to protect their employees and take complaints of harassment seriously. In commenting on a recent EEOC lawsuit against a California restaurant for not addressing repeated complaints of sexual harassment from male and female kitchen staff, the agency’s regional attorney said, “Advising employees to ‘just ignore’ bad behavior and dismissing harassment as mere horseplay are red flags an organization needs to re-examine its workplace culture and anti-harassment policy.”
    1. Implement a formal complaint process
      Another important step in helping to stop workplace harassment is implementing a formal complaint process that makes it easy and convenient for employees to raise concerns and report incidents of harassment, discrimination and retaliation. This could be an anonymous hotline, a dedicated email address to receive complaints, and a designated HR manager or other internal contact, who is expected to quickly respond to and investigate complaints. Employees should also be reassured that they can report incidents of harassment and other abusive conduct without fearing retaliation.
    2. Create a respectful, inclusive workplace culture
      Changing the culture of an organization does not happen quickly or easily. A good start is sending (and repeating) a clear message from owners and management that preventing harassment and promoting a respectful, inclusive culture is a strategic priority and everyone’s responsibility. Training and policies can also play an essential role in driving positive cultural change by communicating the organization’s values and expectations, raising awareness of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, and providing the knowledge and tools staff need to respond appropriately to abusive conduct.

    Traliant Insight
    In the #MeToo era, the restaurant industry has experienced its share of the spotlight. The media attention has also underscored the need for organizations to take positive steps to reduce the risk of workplace harassment. Among the “top 5” is a clearly written anti-harassment policy, accessible complaint procedures, regular, interactive training for all employees, a management team that leads by example, and a commitment to create a safe, respectful and inclusive culture that encourages individuals to speak up.