How to Combat Sexual Harassment in Your Restaurant

Sexual harassment is a major problem in the restaurant industry. As part of a 2014 survey that polled 688 restaurant workers in 39 states, Restaurant Opportunities Center United estimated:

  • Nearly 80 percent of female and 70 percent of male restaurant staff have experienced some form of sexual harassment from coworkers.
  • Nearly 80 percent of women and 55 percent of men in the industry have been harassed by customers.

Given these figures, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), only seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, yet roughly 37 percent of the sexual harassment claims that the commission processes come from restaurant staff.

Even more alarming, approximately three out of four employees who experience harassment never report this behavior due to fears of not being believed, being ignored, or experiencing social or professional retaliation.

With harassment being so prevalent in the food service industry, you need to take measures to protect your business and your staff. Earlier this year, a restaurant franchisee was forced to pay out $450,000 to 15 of its employees to settle a sexual harassment suit brought by the EEOC.

The EEOC claimed that both the general manager and bar manager of the restaurant contributed to creating a “hostile work environment” and directly mistreated several female employees.

How Can You Keep Your Employees Safe?

Train your managers

Managers should know better, but they need to know more than simply to not harass your employees. Train your supervisors to respond proactively to any inappropriate behavior they witness — even if a formal complaint hasn’t yet been filed.

Make it clear to your mid-level managers and front-line supervisors that they will be held responsible for unchecked harassment. Reinforce that this responsibility will be part of their performance reviews.

Offer training courses that will enable managers to more readily identify potential problems and to determine what the appropriate actions might be to prevent harassment before it occurs. A well trained management structure can serve as your first — and best — line of defense against a potential lawsuit.

Have a clear process

Draft easily-understood guidelines outlining what types of behavior are inappropriate for your employees, customers, and even vendors. Define the steps that managers should take if any harassment is reported. Consider implementing a no-fraternization policy between management and regular employees.

You should establish at least two people that employees can approach with complaints. If only one manager is available for the site, consider empowering one of the more senior staff to serve as an employee advocate.

Educate employees

Your managers shouldn’t be the only ones who know your harassment policies. Routinely educate all staff members on company harassment guidelines.

According to research compiled by the EEOC, when employees are asked if they had experienced “sexual harassment” in the workplace without further defining the term in the survey, only 25 percent of women responded that they had.

However, in similar questionnaires when employees were asked if they had been subject to specific inappropriate behaviors, such as unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, the rate jumped to an alarming 40 percent of women.

This gap indicates that many people that actually encounter unwelcome, sexually-based behaviors do not view the experience as harassment, even if they view the behavior as problematic or offensive.

Make sure that your employees know what is appropriate and how to respond when harassed. Also, make it clear that they should not be concerned about any retaliation including the loss of their job, inconvenient shifts, or fewer tables. Design your corporate policy to treat retaliation as severely as harassment.

Respond quickly to issues

Encourage staff to report to managers immediately when they have an issue with a customer so that managers who have the appropriate training can respond right away. Have policies in place for what the managers should do when a customer crosses the line. Additionally, teach staff how they can intervene when they see a customer is harassing a co-worker.

Key Takeaway

Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated. By taking some simple measures to change your restaurant’s culture, you can protect your business from costly lawsuits and better protect your employees.

To learn more about our sexual harassment prevention courses, you can fill out the form on the right to request a demo.