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Stamp Out Sexual Harassment in Your California Restaurant

Stamp Out Sexual Harassment in Your California Restaurant

By Mia Reedy, HR Manager, Flores Financial

Did you know that restaurant workers file more sexual harassment claims than employees working in any other industry? Research shows that up to 90% of women and 70% of men experience some kind of sexual harassment at the hands of restaurant managers, coworkers, vendors and customers. From cooks to bussers, bartenders to servers, what makes sexual harassment so prevalent in this industry? And what can you, as restaurant owner or manager, do to fight harassment in the #MeToo world?

What Fuels Sexual Harassment in Restaurants?

Over half of all restaurant employees are women and the numbers show that huge numbers of these female employees experience some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. In addition, emerging evidence suggests that harassment against men is very real and on the rise. Contributing factors may include:

  • Unsupportive cultures in companies with an actual or perceived history of sweeping sexual harassment under the rug and where employees subsequently feel their complaint won’t be taken seriously and may even incur reprisals.
  • Customer ‘sovereignty’ which upholds the notion that the customer is always right and inhibits employees from reporting unwanted advances;
  • Highly sexualized working environments which encourage staff to be ‘date ready’ and flirt with customers.

New Sexual Harassment Laws in California

After a string of restaurant-based sexual harassment cases and shocking #MeToo stories in 2018, multiple states passed new laws intended to empower victims and enforce regular sexual harassment training for all employees. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed eight bills aimed at preventing sexual and other forms of harassment, as well as promoting gender diversity at board level. As an employer, you now need to be more aware, take action, and document and investigate incidents of sexual harassment promptly. Let’s take a closer look at the new sexual harassment laws rolled out in the Golden State.  

  • No more incentivising silence

SB1300 contains several provisions to curb workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. It’s now illegal for you to ask an employee to sign certain documents as part of a condition of getting or keeping a job or securing a raise or bonus. One of those is an agreement not to sue or file a claim against your business, and the other is a non-disparagement agreement the prohibits your employee from sharing information about unlawful acts in the workplace, including sexual harassment.

  • Goodbye secret settlements

SB820 relates to settlement agreements that resolve civil or administrative claims of sexual misconduct. It applies to public and private employers, including the Legislature, and prohibits clauses that prevent the disclosure of facts relating to a case, bar the sum paid and the identity of the claimant should they wish to remain anonymous.

  • Sexual harassment training

SB1343 has expanded the type and number of employees who are expected to receive regular sexual harassment training. Since the beginning of 2019, employers with more than five employees must give supervisors two hours of training and one hour to everyone else within the first six months of employment or promotion, and again every two years. Temporary and seasonal employees must receiving training within the 30 days or 100 hours, whichever comes first.    

The Business Cost of Ignoring Sexual Harassment

The law is quite clear and if you fail to address any issues of sexual harassment in your restaurant, you’re likely to find yourself slapped with a lawsuit. And struggling to repair the damage to your reputation and profit margin that will inevitably follow. At best, you run the risk of alienating staff and losing talent to more benevolent competitors.

What steps can you take to ensure you’re compliant and eliminate sexual harassment from your restaurant? Read on.

  • Build a strong culture from the top down: It starts with you. Regardless of whether you run a restaurant chain or a boutique coffee shop, a positive, supportive culture begins at the top. Lead by example. Make it clear that you take a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and model acceptable behavior in your restaurant.
  • Train your employees: An informed workforce makes for a safer environment for all. Commit to regular training sessions for employees and managers on the laws and protocol for dealing with sexual harassment. Given the restaurant industry’s notoriously high turnover and youth of many of your team members, it also pays to conduct bystander training, which teaches employees to speak out when they spot sexual harassment.  
  • Expert HR is a must-have, not a luxury: Aside from policies and handbooks (we’ll get to those shortly) having a dedicated HR person shows employees that they have someone to go to with any complaints, which will be heard, investigated and addressed by the book. If you run a small mom and pop restaurant, you may find it hard to find the budget for a full time HR professional so why not consider outsourcing, which can be more affordable.  
  • Establish sound HR policies: With the guidance of an HR professional, implement policies that ensure that workers are treated fairly and with equal opportunities. Also, set up clear and confidential reporting systems. This will all be written down in your handbook so make sure every employee receives the latest copy.
  • Review your dress code: If you operate a dress code, bear in mind that disappearing hemlines and stacked heels may make some of your female employees feel vulnerable. Consider introducing similar uniforms for men and women.   

Seek Advice on California Sexual Harassment Laws

Sexual harassment is a serious issue with lasting consequences for victims and companies who let it slide. Since all the evidence points towards restaurant workers being especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, it’s time to step up to the plate. And the burden of proof is now on you to ensure that your business is compliant with the latest laws.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your employees from harassment and minimize your exposure to any resulting legal fallout. If you’re unsure how your restaurant HR policy shapes up in light of the new sexual harassment legislation, contact the HR experts at Flores Financial.