New Workplace Harassment Laws for the Restaurant Industry

Jul 25, 2019 | Human Resources, Training

The #metoo movement continues to bring shocking stories to the top of our news feeds, but workplace harassment was around long before it was such a popular subject. This is especially true of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. Some reports suggest that up to 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men working in the restaurant industry have experienced some form of harassment. Many high-profile chefs and restaurateurs have been forced out after accusations of inappropriate behavior. McDonald’s, the largest fast-food chain in the world, has repeatedly been accused of fostering a culture that turns a blind eye to harassment.

There are signs, however, that the tide is changing. Advocates for equal rights within the restaurant industry are stepping up and demanding change. For those in the industry not taking action themselves, more and more state and local governments are, or will be, forcing change. New York and California have already instituted sweeping new harassment laws that businesses must follow. Other states, such as Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Tennessee, and Washington, have enacted less drastic laws that send a clear message just the same: workplace harassment will not be tolerated, period.

Stay Ahead of Changing Mandates

Federal law prohibits workplace harassment, and state and local laws extend that protection with further requirements. Even if you don’t operate in an area with new legislation related to harassment, you should be paying attention to what’s happening throughout the country. In general, your restaurant should adopt the following policies to stay ahead of the game.

  • Clearly state your restaurant’s policy against workplace harassment. Awareness is the key to preventing harassment in the workplace. Create a written policy and make sure everyone reads it. Post informational posters in highly visible areas.
  • Train, train, train. Many of the new laws, including those in New York, California, and Delaware, require training for employees and supervisors. In some cases, businesses can cut costs by implementing online workplace harassment training.
  • Clarify the specific obligations of your restaurant management staff. Managers and supervisors can be held liable for harassment that occurs under their watch. It’s critical that managers investigate any instances of harassment that they become aware of.
  • Empower and protect employees who witnesses workplace harassment. New York City’s harassment prevention law requires training on bystander intervention. Employees should know safe ways to intervene and report harassment as well as the restaurant’s obligation to never retaliate against anyone who makes a report of harassment in good faith.
  • Review any arbitration clauses and non-disclosure agreements you may have with employees. In an effort to encourage harassment reporting, many state and local governments are banning mandatory arbitration clauses and NDAs.

Be Proactive to Prevent Harassment

If you work toward a harassment prevention program based on factors that are the focus of changing legislation, you’ll protect your employees, your restaurant, and yourself. Training your staff on workplace harassment prevention and reporting now may mean you won’t be scrambling to do it if and when legislation is enacted in your state or city.

Online Workplace Harassment Training

Many companies find it cost-prohibitive to institute harassment training for all their employees, even when they’re mandated by law to do it. Online harassment programs, including those specific to California harassment laws and New York harassment laws, can lower these costs.

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