Can you believe it’s 2017 and we’re still talking about sexual harassment and gender equality? It’s as if human evolution is taking a lunch break.

Of course it’s the reports from Hollywood that seem to be getting most of the press, and as horrible as these stories are, the sad truth is that it’s not just Hollywood that suffers from this Cro-Magnon mentality in the business world.

Restaurant business… as usual?

The restaurant industry has long been mired in numerous harassment cases, and more recently we’re hearing about hostile work environments in restaurant companies that appear, at the very least, to foster harassment, sexual or otherwise.

In fact, the EEOC has reported that despite the fact that only 7 percent of American women work in the restaurant industry, more than 37 percent of the sexual harassment claims the commission processes come from restaurant staff.

The same entity also reports that 80 percent of females and 55 percent of males have experienced some sort of harassment by either other employees, customers or vendors.

The scariest part of those statistics is that the numbers are probably actually higher. The EEOC reports that three out of four victims never report this behavior because they fear not being believed, being ignored, or worse, experiencing retaliation of some sort. So if you are one of those who are quick to judge people that don’t come forward right away, chances are you’ve never been harassed.

A call to action

While it’s good to see some people speaking up and creating awareness, restaurant leaders need to stop burying their heads in the sand and start taking action immediately. Your people are counting on you to create a safe and productive work environment.

And yes, I know, there are plenty of examples of people trying to cash in on an opportunity, without any merit. However, my experience has been that in an environment of zero tolerance for harassment of any kind, you rarely see those cases came up – and if you do, they generally don’t come to fruition. Most lawsuits are only successful when attorneys can prove tolerance is part of the business culture.

As leaders, it is OUR responsibility to create a culture of zero tolerance.

So what can we do as restaurant leaders to shut down harassment when there are so many employees, customers and vendors to track, and a limited span of control?

These five steps won’t solve all the problems, but they will definitely help:

5 steps for preventing harassment in the workplace

1. Train your Managers!

While Managers should know better anyway (hello, common sense), they need to learn to respond proactively to ANY inappropriate behavior they witness, even if no one is complaining. Offer training courses that will empower managers to more readily identify potential problems and to determine what the appropriate actions might be to prevent harassment BEFORE it occurs.

2. Create easily understood guidelines

Outline exactly what “inappropriate” means for employees, customers and even vendors. Have policies and actions in place for whenever anyone crosses the line. In addition, you need to define steps for leadership to take if harassment is reported.

If you don’t have the resources to employ an HR department (if you do, I strongly recommend you have one), designate one or two people that employees can approach with complaints.

3. Respond Immediately

Show your staff you’re taking it seriously.

4. Create accountability and consequences

Make it clear through your ACTIONS – not your words – that your staff will be held responsible for unchecked harassment. I’ve had to make several tough decisions over the years in letting good people go because they were unable to either stop themselves from, or tolerated others’ harassment

5. Create a culture of inclusiveness (probably the most important step of all)

Create systems of communication which allow management and employees to get together on a regular basis BEFORE you have complaints. This really becomes an opportunity to discuss any topic, and when done effectively, can create an environment of trust. That trust will lead to honesty, and will create a comfort level amongst your staff that will allow you to be proactive.
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The bottom line

Sexual or any other type of harassment just can’t be tolerated. You need to protect your people and the business. You need to create an environment where people feel safe. YOU have to set the tone!
To learn more about how to enroll in my sexual harassment prevention course, make an appointment!