The hospitality industry is the largest workforce in the US, and sadly sexual harassment is a prevalent complaint among service employees all over the world.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to protect your employees from sexual harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to protect yourself against employer liability if an employee establishes a claim against your business.
Let’s cover some basics to ensure your employees are safe—and your business is protected.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlwaws workplace discrimination and harassment and protects individuals from this behavior based on sex, race, age, disability, color, creed, national origin or religion.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as:
“unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex.”
"SOMETHING FOR SOMETHING"
Quid pro quo harassment occurs in the workplace when an authority figure (or employee in a supervisory role) hints that he or she will give the employee something in exchange for a sexual favor. For example, a job, pay raise, or promotion offered in exchange for acceptance of a sexual demand.
Employees seeking justice in a quid pro quo claim can recover damages related to lost wages, emotional distress, and more. Even if an employee submits to the request, he or she can still seek and recover damages.
HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT
Unwanted sexual comments or conduct in the workplace can diminish an employees’ productivity and self esteem. In addition, employees are indirectly impacted even if they are not the subject or the aggressors’ behavior. Witnessing offensive jokes, threats, and offensive images are just some of the types of harassment that contribute to a hostile work environment. This type of behavior of any kind can affect your entire team, and limit productivity and morale.
HOW ARE EMPLOYEES PROTECTED IN THE WORKPLACE?
Regardless of the work environment, employees are legally protected against workplace harassment. The law doesn’t distinguish between an exotic dancers and a barista. If either type of employee is a victim of inappropriate behavior in the workplace, the employer can be held responsible.
WHAT IF MY CUSTOMER IS THE AGGRESSOR?
Often times, a customer or guest can subject your employees to sexual harassment, but you could still be the target of legal action. As an employer, you cannot avoid liability if a patron, vendor, or other non-employee is the aggressor. You have an obligation to investigate and protect your employees from harassment.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MY BUSINESS AND MY TEAM?
- Contact your local EEOC field office to determine the workplace discrimination laws in your state.
- Implement policies on how to deal with sexual harassment, and post and distribute them to all employees. Include steps that detail what to do if the harasser is a manager, authority figure, or non-employee. Your policies should be prompt, corrective, and appropriate.
- Train your entire team on what’s acceptable, and hold your team accountable. Cover your policies in all on-boarding sessions for new hires, and make it available in Spanish and other languages, if necessary.
- Follow-up with scheduled mandatory retraining sessions to further foster a safe work environment for long-term employees.
- Verbally inquire about staff feedback regarding workplace behavior. Monthly or quarterly surveys, employee evaluations, and exit interviews are all ways to foster communication and investigate improprieties.
- Most importantly, take any complaint of discrimination or harassment seriously. Many times, an employee will not complain out of fear of retaliation or doubt that the situation will change. Failure on your part to investigate and respond to complaints could make you the target of legal action in the future.
Co Creator Collective can help. For assistance with staff training, policy creation, and management development contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org