By Chris M. Mason, Attorney, Jennings, Strouss & Salmon, P.L.C.
Continuing our Arizona Restaurant Week series, below are tips on anti-harassment to avoid nightmares, costly fines, and litigation in the workplace:
Workplace harassment presents challenges for all employers, but can be particularly prevalent in the restaurant industry. High industry turnover rates, often young and relatively inexperienced workforces, and an environment where customer behavior can be unpredictable, particularly for those restaurants serving alcohol, all exacerbate the challenge.
Tip 1: Adopt a clear, legally-compliant anti-harassment policy, and make it easily accessible and visible to all employees
Your anti-harassment policy should comply with federal and state law, and spell out the processes for reporting and discipline. Include the policy in the employee handbook, and secure employees’ signatures acknowledging they understand the policy.
Tip 2: Implement mandatory and continual anti-harassment training
Integrate mandatory training into your employee onboarding process to ensure new employees understand that harassment is prohibited and will result in serious discipline. Continual training with help reinforce your policy and help minimize potential legal claims.
Tip 3: Extend policy to harassment on the basis of any protected characteristic, such as race, age, and gender
While sexual harassment tends to garner greater media attention, be sure your policy explicitly addresses all types of unlawful harassment.
Tip 4: Take all complaints or other reports of harassment seriously and conduct a thorough investigation
Ignoring complaints, or failing to conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation, can lead to serious liability and detrimental public attention.
Tip 5: Be mindful that harassment, particularly in the restaurant industry, can stem from any source, including customers, vendors, and other visitors
Employers have a duty to protect employees from all harassment in the workplace, regardless of origin.
Tip 6: Ensure well-trained supervisors monitor the workplace for signs of harassment and quickly address any issues
Supervisors may need additional training on how to recognize potential issues, and how to implement the anti-harassment policy.
Tip 7: Implement appropriate remedial steps immediately to prevent the harassment from continuing or recurring
Be sure to follow the policy to determine what course of action to take. This may include additional training for minor infractions up to termination for more serious ones.
Tip 8: Protect all individuals reporting harassment, or involved in an investigation as witnesses, from retaliation
If employees do not feel safe from retaliation, there is a greater chance that the harassment will not be reported. This may also open the door for additional legal claims. Assure employees that retaliation is unacceptable and should be immediately reported.