Sexual Harassment and the Restaurant Industry

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has targeted the restaurant industry as the “single largest” source of sexual harassment claims. Recent cases show a prevalence of inappropriate workplace conduct among younger, less experienced workers. A recent 2005 case suggests that when an employee complains that a co-worker physically touched her, simply warning the offending co-worker may be an insufficient response if other employees subsequently engage in similar conduct.

Before you dismiss this case as something unlikely to happen in your workplace, ask yourself:

1. Would any of your managers handle an oral complaint of touching by themselves or would they notify their District Manager or Human Resources? Would they be more apt to warn (rather than fire) the offending employees if they personally liked them, thought they were valuable employees or felt the complaining employee might have contributed to the conduct?

2. Does your policy require employees who believe the company did not adequately address their complaint to state the reasons (in writing) to Human Resources? Or, could you end up in a situation where your manager thought s/he adequately addressed the complaint, but the next incident is more severe and the complaining employee now contends that you never properly addressed her complaint in the first place?

In Loughman v. Malnati Org. Inc., d/b/a Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, plaintiff began working as a cashier at the age of 17. From the outset, kitchen workers whistled at her and made inappropriate comments regarding sex. She complained but the comments continued. Five months later, a kitchen worker pushed her into a room and tried to kiss her. He blocked her path for several minutes when she tried to get away. Plaintiff complained to a manager, who warned the kitchen worker that he would be fired if he ever touched plaintiff again. He never did.

Sexual harassment and the restaurant industry is a big issue according to the EEOC.  It is important for employers in the restaurant industry to address these issues by ensuring they have appropriate sexual harassment training programs in place.

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