How to Stop Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant and Service Industry

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 23, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For service industry employees, from attorneys to food servers, sexual harassment is a serious and pervasive problem. And it isn't just coming from bosses and co-workers, but customers and clients contribute to the problem as well.

The problem of customer sexual harassment is exceedingly prevalent in the restaurant industry, particularly for food servers. Often compounding the problem, frequently, a manager's response to an incident of customer harassment will solely be to remove a server from the particular customer's table. While seemingly appropriate, it does little to discourage the behavior and potentially penalizes the server. However, the very thought of a manager speaking to a customer about not sexually harassing staff is likely to send chills down the spine of business owners.

Tips for Restaurants

As the consummate professionals over at the Harvard Business Review suggest, restaurants should have clear anti-harassment policies that are communicated to all staff (and potentially even the customers) which explicitly state that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.

The difficult part is that these policies must be enforced. Additionally, it is suggested that an avenue be established for employees to report a manager's sexual harassment, either to an HR rep or other party responsible for overseeing the manager. Lastly, when it comes to co-worker/manager sexual harassment, training is essential. Managers should be trained on how to handle complaints, and all staff should be given bystander intervention training in order to diffuse ongoing sexual harassment.

Can These Tips Work for Other Industries?

While lawyers and other service professionals (thanks to appointment only type business models) don't see nearly the same level of sexual harassment from customers that food servers, or retail employees, are prone to encounter, the same prevention and remediation strategies apply. Law firms and other service professionals might want to consider including an anti-discrimination and anti-sexual harassment clause in their fee agreement.

Providing meaningful training to all staff and management, as well as implementing zero tolerance policies, and enforcing those policies, can actually work. But, the key is actually enforcing the policies, as otherwise those unenforced policies can become a company's own undoing.

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