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Serving Up Solutions: How to Handle Restaurant Employee Harassment

Try these tips to minimize the possibility of your restaurant employees being harassed at work.

Improper handling of a harassment complaint can land you in hot water if you don’t know how to respond to it. Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

Since restaurants are commonly considered a more casual work environment than a typical office setting, the lines can get blurred when comments or jokes are exchanged. Here’s how to ensure your restaurant is a safe, positive and harassment-free environment.

What qualifies as harassment?

Let’s first break down what is considered harassment at work. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment is unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information such as offensive jokes, racial slurs, intimidation and name-calling.

For example, a restaurant employee with Down syndrome suffered physical and verbal harassment from coworkers, forcing the employee to resign. The restaurant ultimately paid him $90,000 because of the discrimination he faced due to his disability, which is protected under the ADA.

“Sexual harassment” or unwelcome advances are requests for sexual favors in exchange for favors such as a promotion or a pay increase. It can also be verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature such as touching, sexual innuendoes, pressuring for dates and comments about physical appearance.

An example of sexual harassment is the story of three female teenagers working at a Chinese restaurant from a male supervisor who made inappropriate comments and sexual advances. The restaurant had to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the EEOC.

Harassment is illegal when it’s frequent or severe, or creates a hostile or intimidating work environment. The victim can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct, not just the person being harassed.

Who qualifies as a harasser?

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another department, an agent of the employer, a coworker, or a non-employee — like a vendor or customer.

An estimated three out of four individuals who experience harassment at the workplace never report it, fearing they’ll get punished or that no one will believe them. A waitress in Houston, Texas, experienced several forms of sexual harassment from customers — and coworkers. She didn’t report being harassed at work because that meant losing tips, which most employees rely on when working on a low-minimum wage.

How to prevent harassment

One way to prevent harassment is to offer anti-harassment training to employees and managers to demonstrate what is considered harassment and how to put an end to it.

Also, create an anti-harassment policy making your employees aware that any form of harassment won’t be tolerated.

In the policy, list the steps to take to report a harassment claim. State that the harasser will face disciplinary action depending on the harassment taking place. List more than one supervisor for employees to contact, because the potential harasser could be an immediate supervisor. State in the policy that those reporting the harassment won’t be punished or retaliated against.

Why you should have a harassment policy in place

Having an anti-harassment policy in place will help protect your employees and your business from facing a lawsuit. In 2015 alone, the EEOC recovered $164.5 million for workers claiming harassment.

You not only need to have a policy, but you need to implement it. Review the policy regularly with employees and make sure they sign and date it.

Maintaining a respectful workplace

As a responsible business owner, you must understand the importance of maintaining a harassment-free workplace. Putting the right measures in place will result in higher productivity and better morale – and less of a chance you’ll end up in court.

For additional information on harassment, check out tips from ComplyRight on ways to keep harassment out of the workplace.

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