Countless sexual harassment allegations have surfaced in the entertainment industry, which has prompted outrage throughout many other industries. Sexual harassment is, unfortunately, not limited to any segment, and the hospitality industry is no stranger to sexual misconduct. According to a report by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, restaurant workers file more sexual harassment claims than any other industry. In fact, more than 170,000 sexual misconduct claims have been filed in the industry in the past 20 years, and 83% have come from women alone. So why is it that restaurants and hotels experience more sexual misconduct and what can organizations do to stop harassment?
Unique Issues in the Hospitality Industry
There are several specific issues that hospitality workers face in the industry that contribute to the overwhelming number of sexual allegations. For starters, because management tends to be primarily male-dominated, many times it can feel like a “boys’ club” in the kitchen. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United reported that while women do comprise 71% of servers, men make up the majority when it comes to managers, head chefs and owners. When the power dynamic is so skewed, a workplace environment can shift to a place where sexual harassment is tolerated, ignored or normalized. As a result, employees may begin to feel resistant about confronting others and/or reporting inappropriate behavior.
Along with a male-dominated environment, there is an abundance of young people in hospitality-based businesses. Many teens, who look to the hospitality industry for their first jobs, are inexperienced with workplace standards. They may not have a clear understanding of what is and isn’t professional at work. And in some cases, their manager may be another young person who wasn’t trained on handling allegations or leading a respectful workplace.
Lastly, customers play an integral role in some restaurant employees’ earnings. With wait staff relying heavily on tips, many employees put up with harassment from customers daily. Combined with the old industry saying, “the customer is always right,” and not wanting to sacrifice a generous tip, employees are less likely to speak out against sexual acts. Additionally, some employees may see this harassment as part of the job. All restaurants have a different culture, and sometimes revealing clothing is part of the service experience. Unfortunately, a revealing uniform helps customers justify their sexual harassment, leading employees to believe it’s acceptable.
Stop Harassment in Its Tracks
It is the responsibility of the organization to ensure employees are receiving proper sexual harassment prevention training. The physical safety of all employees is a workplace concern and must be treated the same as any other safety law or procedure. Below is an outline of three ways hospitality businesses can prevent sexual harassment.
- Establish a Clear-cut, Zero-tolerance, Anti-harassment Policy
Restaurants and hotels need to make it abundantly clear that harassment of any kind is neither allowed nor tolerated. If your organization does not have an anti-harassment policy, put one in place and display it in the appropriate areas. The policy doesn’t have to be 10 pages of legalese; a simple one-page document with simple language will do the trick.
Next, organizations must create procedures for everyone to follow if they need to file a complaint to ensure employees understand how to report harassment. In some instances, managers are responsible for handling complaints, but they may also be the perpetrator. Creating an alternative reporting solution is important for employees to utilize in these cases.
- Institute Training and Awareness Programs
All employees should be required to complete sexual harassment prevention training, so they are equipped to identify harassment and able to maintain a respectful workplace. Managers, especially, should be trained to recognize harassment, understand legal requirements, address complaints and lead a harassment-free workplace.
The most convenient way to set up an anti-harassment program is through online training modules. Adopting e-learning makes it easy for staff to access modules 24/7, deliver consistent training across all employees, and allow for tracking completions. Many organizations also utilize a blended learning approach to their training. Blended learning combines online training and traditional face-to-face training. Whether that be a combination of classroom training coupled with an online exam or hands-on training, blended learning can enhance the learning experience by reinforcing lessons via multiple media.
E-learning also keeps learners more engaged as opposed to paper-based materials, and modules can be viewed multiple times to review confusing or forgotten concepts. Additionally, over time e-learning is cost-effective when compared to the costs of traditional training expenses, such as travel, printed materials and time.
- Incorporate Harassment Prevention with other Training
To be effective, harassment prevention training must be repeated often as part of an ongoing initiative. Organizations should aim to create a plan that incorporates anti-harassment training periodically to keep the content top-of-mind. Furthermore, harassment prevention training should be integrated even in the context of other training. How can you weave in a reminder about harassment prevention when discussing diversity? Can you reference a harassment claim when training conflict resolution? Incorporating harassment prevention messages in related training content is an easy way to remind learners how to recognize and prevent harassment.
By implementing a clear-cut policy, creating training awareness programs for employees and managers, and incorporating harassment prevention with other training you’ll ensure a respectful workplace for all your employees, while reducing turnover and protecting your brand.
Originally published in Issue 32 of Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine