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National Restaurant Association - Workplace Harassment Resources

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News & Research

Workplace Harassment Resources

Our statement on harassment

“We proudly represent an industry that employs nearly 15 million people across this nation. Sexual harassment, or harassment of any type, is wrong and will not be tolerated. As the industry of hospitality, we are strongly committed to promoting positive workplaces where every person is safe and has the opportunity to thrive.”
-- Dawn Sweeney, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission resources

EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace

EEOC Harassment Prevention and Respectful Workplaces Training

Types of harassment

EEOC sexual harassment page

Harassment laws enforced by the EEOC

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Federal Regulations on Discrimination Because of Sex

Q&A: Preventing harassment in the workplace

January 30, 2018

The National Restaurant Association talked to attorneys Andy Hament of FordHarrison and Jonathan Segal of Duane Morris about how restaurants can proactively address workforce harassment. Segal was a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.

Q. What is harassment?
A. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines harassment as employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on sex, race, national origin, age, disability, religion or other protected categories under federal, state or local law. Harassment generally is considered unlawful if the conduct must be endured as a condition of continued employment or when it becomes so pervasive or severe that it creates a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile or abusive. In some states or jurisdictions, such as New York City, the standard to meet a hostile work environment is lower than federal law.

Q. What is sexual harassment?
A. Sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of harassment. It consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual, gender-biased or hostile nature. The Civil Rights Act applies to all types of sexual discrimination: male-to-female, female-to-male or same-sex harassment.

Q. What are the most common forms of harassment?
A. Some sexual harassment is considered “quid pro quo” harassment, such as when employment actions are traded for sexual favors. Another type of harassment creates a hostile work environment. That includes offensive conduct that is severe, such as a single incident of touching. Or it could be pervasive, which means there’s a pattern of more subtle conduct, such as pictures of naked women on lockers or being subject to constant offensive jokes.

Q. What are some examples of offensive conduct?
Offensive conduct includes offensive jokes, slurs, name-calling and epithets, physical assaults or threats, ridicule or mockery, insults, offensive objects or pictures and constant or unwelcome questions about an individual’s identity, according to the EEOC.

Q. How can you tell when the joking crosses a line?
A. You don’t want a judge or jury to decide what crosses the line, so you need to control, supervise and decide what’s not acceptable, Hament says. Make sure your restaurant has a clear policy against jokes, comments and offensive behavior based on gender, disability, race, background and other classes protected under discrimination laws. Even if two employees think it’s OK to make offensive jokes, it’s still inappropriate and not OK, Segal says. It still affects the working environment. “You don’t want to send a message that two people can be racist, homophobic or mock people with disabilities.” If an employee indicates a behavior is unwelcome, even by non-verbal signs, it’s considered harassment, Hament says. It doesn’t have to be an expressed statement because sometimes employees don’t feel comfortable saying anything, particularly if the supervisor is the harasser.

Q. Are we talking about just supervisors?
A. No. Harassers can be supervisors, customers, co-workers, visitors. A harasser could be a supplier dropping off an order of bread, or a guest, Hament points out. The harasser could be male or female.

Q. Who are the victims?
A. The victim isn’t just the person harassed. Anyone affected by the conduct can bring a complaint of harassment.

Q. What is the first step to prevent harassment?
A. Work with your legal counsel to create a policy that plainly prohibits discrimination and harassment based on any of the characteristics protected under state and federal law, such as sex, race, disability, gender, origin or age, Hament suggests. For example, some states prohibit discrimination based on a person’s marital status. One of the most important things you can do is to recognize the need for a policy, Segal says. Employees like to joke around in the fast-paced, demanding restaurant world. But you need to ensure that fun doesn’t come at the expense of other employees. Someone might need to blow off steam, but he or she needs to do that in a productive way. They can’t blow off steam by verbally assaulting someone any more than they can punch someone, Segal says.

Q. What should my policy entail?

• Ensure you prohibit harassing behavior against employees as a matter of policy. Make clear that you will take appropriate corrective or disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment or other relationship. It’s important to include “other relationship” so it’s clear that your policy applies to non-employees, such as vendors or customers, Segal says.

• Explain in a general way your process for investigation and follow-up. Don’t attempt to spell out what specific action you will take. That would depend on the level of harassment.

• Ensure employees understand they have a right to complain and not face retaliation. Outline a clear complaint procedure for bringing concerns to management without retaliation, with multiple avenues for reporting complaints. Make sure employees know they don’t have to confront the harasser before reporting the conduct.

• Spell out the conduct that’s inappropriate between employees and customers and visitors, as well as co-workers and supervisors. Use examples to illustrate. Make it clear that mistreatment on social media carries the weight of any other workplace interaction.

• Consider a no-fraternization rule between managers and employees. Managers’ authority doesn’t end at the end of the night. It’s important for managers and supervisors to keep business to business. They should avoid unnecessary actions that could be considered sexual or other types of harassment.

It’s not enough to have a written policy. The EEOC recommends a holistic harassment prevention program that integrates your policy, training, reporting and follow-up. Strive for an organizational culture that promotes respect and civility in the workplace and shows that everyone has a role in preventing harassment: employees, guests and supervisors.

The EEOC updated its sexual harassment guidelines in 2017, but they won't become public until they receive regulatory approval.

The updated EEOC guidelines grew out of a 2016 EEOC report that found that workplace harassment remained a persistent problem and often was unreported. It pointed out the need for accountability for top leadership and said that businesses must explore ways to improve training. Since then, the EEOC has created onsite training for harassment prevention and creating a respectful workplace.

This article shouldn’t be construed as legal advice or pertaining to specific factual situations. Consult your legal counsel about circumstances specific to your restaurant.

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