Harassment in the workplace that’s left unchecked can lead to expensive legal proceedings
70-80% of Restaurant Staff Say They Have Been Harassed
That’s an incredibly high number, but according to The Restaurant Opportunities Center’s2014 report, that was their finding.
A mix of factors play into this situation, but as restaurant owners and managers, it is our legal obligation to create a safe working environment for all staff.
Only a small portion of restaurant harassment is actually ever reported and goes to court. With a turnover-rate approaching 70%, employees often quit the restaurant rather than continue to deal with harassment.
This leaves harassers unpunished for their actions and a false impression that it’s “OK.” It is suspected this is one of the primary drivers of the high rate of harassment in restaurants.
However, if management is found to have been negligent in the prevention of employee harassment the fines can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Are you willing to spend that kind of money, months of legal proceedings and having your reputation tarnished over a lax attitude about staff harassment?
Types of Harassment in Restaurants
Co-worker Harassment– NYC law firm Philips & Associates clarifies the definition of workplace harassment, according to the laws of New York.
A hostile work environment typically arises when you receive unwanted verbal or physical conduct that interferes with your ability to do your job, whether that is serving or cooking. However, the New York City Human Rights Law, provides greater protection for employees than its state or federal counterparts. An employee only needs to prove that they were treated “less well than other employees… at least in part for a discriminatory reason.”
As you can see, laws vary depending on jurisdiction. The particular legal definition used in your State is outside the scope of this article, but the concept is clear. If workers are being treated poorly by other staff members and are unable to perform their regular job duties, it’s considered a hostile work environment and management is obligated to step in.
Restaurant Patron Harassment– It might surprise you that as a restaurant owner you are also responsible for controlling the behavior of your patrons. If restaurant guests harass your staff members and you turn a blind eye, for whatever reason, you could be held financially liable.
Take for instance a recent case in Florida where a wings restaurant was held liable for the inappropriate touching and comments made by a restaurant patronto the tune of $200,000.
No matter who the guest is even if they are a VIP or a regular, they’re not worth the damage to your business caused by a lawsuit for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your employees need to feel safe and know that management will back them up if they experience harassment from their customers.
Create A Firm Action Plan To Fight Harassment
Since your staff will inevitably have varying amounts of experience in the restaurant industry, some may have little work experience and don’t know how serious harassment can be, or they’ve been in restaurants where harassment was tolerated for so long they don’t even recognize their bad behaviors.
By creating a clear-cut anti-harassment policy, you’ll be able to set employee expectations for how they should conduct themselves. Work with your state and local employment policy department to develop an approved anti-harassment training program and make sure that all staff members complete it.
If management observes harassing behaviors between coworkers or with restaurant guests, they are obligated to step in and mediate the situation, even if the staff member says it’s “ok.” They may be trying to downplay the effect that the harasser is having on them.
Most important however is to make sure that your restaurant staff is made to feel that their concerns are taken seriously, and that management will back them up if they report harassing behavior from either co-workers or patrons.
By taking a firm stance against restaurant employee harassment, you’ll be able to create an environment where workers feel safe to report inappropriate behavior, which will cut down on instances of harassment and help to protect you from the potential liability that can happen from harassment in the workplace.