Best Practices to Prevent Sexual Harassment in a Restaurant Workplace

Increasingly, top level leadership in companies are being required to undergo sexual harassment training. But restaurant businesses are in a unique position to have a larger impact on workplace culture—starting with its young, entry-level labor force. For many young people starting their first job, subsidizing school or their first apartment, their first real paycheck will come from a restaurant. The training (or lack thereof) and experience gained in that first restaurant job will carry over to later careers. Restauranteurs that take that truth to heart will want to equip young employees (not just management—though that’s important too) to be successful not just at this job, but as employees in a variety of future professional work environments. In other words, how to be mature people who contribute to culture. Our current climate is revealing what happens if young people fail to learn these values, so now more than ever a critical role for restauranteurs is preventing sexual harassment, and training staff to treat coworkers with dignity.

Zero Tolerance

Instilling these values doesn’t mean going easy on infractions. In fact tough love (by way of strict rules) is a more effective policy, and it helps staff to know they will be protected rather than victimized. Clear rules and expectations, followed by clear consequences are important so that everyone knows how to prevent harassment and what will happen if it does occur. And in the restaurant setting, it’s also important for employees to know that the company will protect them not only from other staff and management, but customers who engage in bullying, sexual harassment, or even assault.

Review Training Procedures

Whether policies and procedures have been in place for years, or are newly being added, it’s time for review. Make sure that the training process meets the need of both the company and the staff, that it goes beyond just information, and that you’re neither racing through it in a hurry to get done, nor simply boring your employees with a lecture. Employ multiple learning methods, include teambuilding exercises, and encourage conversation and discourse. And after each round of training, review again. Was it effective? Did we miss anything? Was there too much of anything? Are there new policies to cover? Continued review will help refine the process and improve the outcomes.

Follow Up

Training can’t be one-and-done. The principle of reviewing doesn’t apply only to the training procedures, but for revisiting the issue periodically with employees. The follow-up efforts should be helpful to the employee and the company culture, and also not greatly inconvenience staff. Brief meetings before shifts, meetings led in-person by regional or area leadership (if applicable), and on-demand online training on the employee’s schedule are options to provide value and convenience.

Open Culture

While training is important (and the planning and evaluation that goes with it), ultimately a company culture that fosters open and honest communication (and the freedom to speak up when they’ve seen or experienced a violation) is what will make the training “stick” and keep the work environment healthier and safer. People genuinely make mistakes, but rather than sweeping errors (or assaults) under the rug, it’s healthiest to address it all—while still presuming innocence and investigating accordingly.

All staff levels of a restaurant business must be on board, and training and enculturation must begin from the first day on the job. This industry, as a first-time job, stepping stone, or career track, has a powerful opportunity to shape the workforce with rippling effects. Prevent sexual harassment here can make real change elsewhere.

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