Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the flood of sexual harassment claims across the country — particularly against media figures and Hollywood elites. What you may not know is that employers in the hospitality industry are perhaps the most vulnerable to these types of lawsuits. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 37 percent of all sexual harassment charges filed with the agency were filed by employees in the restaurant industry.
Sexual harassment is never OK, especially in the workplace. This article identifies three key components to an effective anti-harassment strategy that employers in the craft beer industry can utilize to help protect their employees from this vile behavior, while simultaneously protecting the employer from potential liability and negative publicity.
Step 1 — Strong Anti-Harassment Policy
Every employer — large or small — should have a well-written and well-understood anti-harassment policy. An effective policy contains the following key elements:
• a prohibition against sexual harassment and harassment based on other protected characteristics (race, age, disability, etc.) — including an explanation of what qualifies as “harassment” and the type of conduct that is prohibited by the policy;
• a statement that violations of the policy will result in discipline up to and including termination;
• a message encouraging employees to report policy violations;
• information regarding the various channels through which an employee may report any such concerns (and there should be more than one method, particularly if the harasser is the employee’s supervisor or manager); and
• a prohibition against retaliation for an employee making a complaint regarding a violation of the policy.
Step 2 — Training
Ideally, all new employees should receive training on the company’s anti-harassment policy. In addition, anti-harassment training should be provided to both managers and nonexempt employees on a regular basis to remind them of the policies and the goals behind the policies.
The most effective harassment training is conducted in person by a live trainer (employment law attorneys and/or longtime, savvy HR professionals) with the opportunity for interactive engagement.
The best training provides information and real-world examples that illustrate what conduct is unacceptable, how such conduct can adversely affect employees and the workplace, how to address or report any concerns, and the potential consequences for those who violate the policies. The trainer should understand and appreciate the particular work environment and use examples that relate specifically to that setting.
Notably, training provided to managers should be different than that provided to nonexempt employees. A manager who harasses a subordinate may expose the company to greater liability than a coworker who harasses the employee. In addition, managers have a significant responsibility to protect the employees they supervise and protect the company from liability. A manager who is aware of or receives a report of harassing conduct is obligated to take action — either by taking direct action to address the issue or by reporting it to higher-level management and/or an HR representative so that it can be addressed there.
Step 3 — Enforcement
Consistent enforcement of employer anti-harassment policies has the desirable effect of both correcting harassment issues before they grow into bigger problems (and potential liability) and giving employees confidence that the employer stands by its policy.
Enforcement encompasses: (1) an effective procedure for receiving complaints; (2) conducting effective and prompt investigations; (3) taking corrective action where needed; and (4) communicating a result to the complaining employee.
Effective anti-harassment policies identify several channels for employees to report concerns they may have regarding potential violations. The employer needs to make sure that when employees report concerns, an effective means exists to receive those reports, triage them and make plans to handle them promptly.
Often, this requires some form of investigation. Some complaints can be addressed with a limited review of the complaint and a discussion with the reporting employee; others may require a full-blown investigation. In every case, the employer should promptly review the complaint and gather the facts necessary to understand what occurred.
Once the employer has reached a conclusion, it needs to respond appropriately. If the employer concludes that an accused employee violated the anti-harassment policy, the employer should take corrective action. The severity of corrective action depends on the circumstances, but should be designed to put an end to the employee’s inappropriate conduct, including termination.
Lastly, the employer should report back to the employee who made the complaint that: (1) it conducted an investigation; (2) appropriate action was taken; (3) the employee should report any additional concerns; and (4) retaliation is prohibited and also should be reported. •