March 13, 2018

Five steps to address the widespread problem

Sexual harassment has been a pervasive problem for workers in the hospitality industry, long before the scandals involving celebrity chefs and their restaurant groups hit the headlines.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives more complaints of sexual harassment from workers in the hotel and food industry than any other category, according to The Center for American Progress, which analyzed data from 2005 to 2015. And, of course, many incidents go unreported or are settled before going to court.

Do your employees know what constitutes sexual harassment?

The EEOC defines it as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature…that explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There are two forms of workplace sexual harassment – quid pro quo this for thatand hostile environment.  Quid pro quo is asking/demanding a sexual favor in exchange for something.  A hotel manager who offers an employee a promotion in exchange for sex is an example of quid pro quo harassment.  A workplace becomes a hostile environment when unwanted sexual conduct becomes so pervasive that it interferes with a person’s ability to do their job.  For example, the chef who constantly makes graphic comments about a hostess’ body.

Sexual harassment is not just something that happens in the workplace.  It can occur after hours, when hospitality workers go out to unwind after a long shift. And it’s not always a male supervisor harassing a female. A person of any gender can be a harasser or a target of harassment.   The harasser might be a co-worker, or even someone who’s not an employee, such as a vendor, a customer or a guest.  

What can hospitality organizations do to prevent and correct sexual harassment and retaliation against their employees?  Here are five steps:

  • Develop a code of conduct and anti-harassment policy – A written code of conduct and anti-harassment policy should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment and all forms of discrimination and harassment is unacceptable and illegal. Emphasize that all individuals who engage in or ignore harassment will be held accountable for their actions.  And update your employee handbook to reflect the new anti-harassment policy.
  •  Conduct anti-harassment training – Training is more effective when it occurs regularly and all employees participate. Look for training that focuses on changing unacceptable behaviors and attitudes and is tailored to the unique environment of the hospitality industry (see our course on Preventing Discrimination and Harassment for the Hospitality Industry). Training is also one of the best ways to educate workers on how to report incidents of harassment and how to intervene when they see it.
  • Don’t ignore complaints – Whether it’s a manager harassing a server or a guest harassing a housekeeper, organizations have a legal responsibility to protect their employees. Ensure your managers take all complaints seriously and know how to appropriately respond and investigate complaints. Encourage employees to report all incidents of harassment, whether they involve  managers, co-workers, suppliers, customers or guests. And reinforce the message that workers are protected from retaliation. Firing or demoting an employee for reporting harassment is illegal.
  • Set up reporting options The EEOC recommends implementing a formal complaint process. The idea is to make it easy and convenient for employees in all locations to raise concerns and report incidents of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.  Setting up an anonymous hotline, having a dedicated email address and designating a contact are examples of reporting options.
  • Make stopping harassment a priority – It’s difficult to change the culture of an organization or industry in which sexual harassment has gone unchecked. Hearing directly from the CEO and executive management that preventing harassment is a strategic priority sends a strong message.  And, of course, those words must be backed up with policies, procedures, training and resources that help foster positive work environments where employees feel respected and motivated to speak up when they experience or witness harassment.

Traliant Insight

Following multiple sexual harassment allegations against celebrity chefs, restaurant owners and a casino mogul, we’re now seeing the hospitality industry grapple with ways to address and prevent this pervasive problem. One thing seems clear, it’s time to put preventing sexual harassment permanently on the menu.