Harassment in the Tourism and Hospitality Industries

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HARASSMENT IN THE TOURISM & HOSPITALITY INDUSTRIES
By Ward Heinrichs Esq., San Diego Employment Attorney

 

We have seen in the News a recent spate of sensational sexual harassment cases in the entertainment industry, network news, and halls of politics.  Famous people have fallen from high pedestals for outlandish acts.  Who, besides the people who worked closely with Matt Lauer at NBC, knew that he locked his door by pressing a button on his desk and trapped women in his office?  Others have been accused of far worse sexual harassment.  Is that type of behavior only part of the culture of the rich and famous in Hollywood, the news media, and politics?  Unfortunately, not.

We now are hearing about the same type of behavior in the hospitality industry, more specifically, in the restaurant industry.  Anthony Bourdain, the chef who wrote Kitchen Confidential and who has starred in several cooking TV series, sensationalized the bawdy work place of a chef’s kitchen in his book.  To be fair, not all kitchens a run identically, and many are well run.  Still, the restaurant kitchen is a place where both males and females work closely together and at a fast pace. Too often, chefs try to live up to the bawdy lifestyle that Bourdain described.  Depending on management and local custom, bawdy behavior can certainly be part of the kitchen culture.

A related work place, the fields where restaurant food is grown and picked, has also recently received scrutiny for its bawdy reputation.  As in the kitchen culture, women work closely with men.  Many of the men are in supervisory positions. Many of the women are undocumented and work late into the evenings in isolated fields.  The reported problems that arose from the agricultural industry’s culture caused the California legislature to pass a law that requires farm labor contractors to provide sexual harassment training to all new employees, in the language understood by each employee, and to train all employees every two years thereafter.  (California Labor Code §1684.)

Restaurant and kitchen workers are part of the broader tourist industry in many U.S. cities.  Of course, so are bars and hotels.  Neither of those businesses are immune from the same type of harassment, but, at least at bars, the harassment tends to come from a slightly different place, the patrons.  In California, harassment from third parties, patrons in this case, can lead to sexual harassment claims if the business manager or supervisor knew about the harassment and did not take appropriate action.  The people in charge of a business have a duty to appropriately deal with harassing acts that alter the conditions of employment, no matter who causes those altered conditions.

What are the owners of restaurants, bars, and hotels to do in this state of heightened sexual harassment scrutiny?  First, make sure that the business has a strongly stated written sexual harassment policy.  Second, make sure that all required sexual harassment posters are posted in a very visible spot.  Third, have a written procedure clearly explaining how an employee may lodge a complaint, and what the company will immediately do once the business receives the complaint.  Fourth, describe in writing that if an investigation finds harassment, the business will take swift action designed to remedy the situation.  Fifth, have a written anti-retaliation policy for reporting harassment or discrimination.  Sixth, encourage employees to report harassment immediately, so the business can investigate effectively and act quickly, if necessary.

The business should also describe in writing how it will do its best to keep a complaint of sexual harassment as confidential as possible.  Of course, most investigations will require the interviewer to talk to more than one person.  At the beginning of the interview, the interviewer should stress confidentiality.  More than one person may need to see the investigation report, but each person should strive to keep it as private as possible.  Confidentiality cannot be perfect during an investigation, but sensitive care can help to keep the investigation as private as possible.

Finally, California does not require most businesses to provide sexual harassment training for all its employees.  Usually, training is only required for supervisors of businesses that have 50 or more employees.  Under the current climate, all businesses should seriously consider providing harassment training for all employees.

Based in San Diego, California the Employment Law Office of Ward Heinrichs represents both employers and employees in almost all areas of labor law. He and his firm litigate cases that have been filed in many different parts of California. Visit www.BestEmploymentAttorneySanDiego.com


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About the Author:

Based in San Diego, California the Employment Law Office of Ward Heinrichs represents both employers and employees in almost all areas of labor law. He and his firm litigate cases that have been filed in many different parts of California. Visit www.BestEmploymentAttorneySanDiego.com

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