Getting a handle on harassment: 3 leaders lay out best tips

| by S.A. Whitehead
Getting a handle on harassment: 3 leaders lay out best tips

The pervasiveness of sexual and other types of harassment in all work environments has perhaps never been such a hot-button issue than it is today. That fact, and the devastating effects such abuse can have on people and businesses, absolutely demands that brands be up to the second on their training, prevention efforts and overall culture around this critical subject. 

The high level of current interest in all things pertaining to workplace harassment is also, in some part, why an education on the subject scored such a large and attentive audience last week at the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. The hour-long conversation — moderated by National Restaurant Association Vice President of Learning and Development Janet Benoit — included input from three restaurant industry players that span different sectors, including:

  • Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) founder and President Gerry Fernandez.
  • Ivar's Restaurant Director of Training Patrick Yearout.
  • Hostmark Hospitality Group Vice President of Human Resources Christine Andrews. 

The discussion was brimming with good advice from three types of organizations, each lending itself to the betterment of the whole and everyone in the audience. Below are some highlights

Q: Where do your companies and organizations stand regarding sexual harassment training and prevention?

Hostmark: In the past, we've looked at (harassment prevention) as a compliance component ... but we have to change the conversation to be more proactive ... and recently our leadership had an attorney (with subject area expertise) meet with our G.M.s. ... And from that we're looking at adding more conversation and the right resources, as well. 

Ivar's: We start with the basics regarding prevention and list the behaviors that are not permissible and what steps will be taken, including anything up to (employee) dismissal if they do engage in these types of behaviors, to what employees should do if they witness or experience (sexual harassment) and then our policy about retaliation. 

But really, a lot of it has to do with conversations from manager and really from district managers, who bring the corporate (view on behaviors and policies) to the work sites. And it's not just about what you shouldn't do, but what you should do, like promoting respect and employees' responsibilities. That all starts with the district managers having those conversations. 

MFHA: We don't' operate any restaurant or hotels, but we certainly work with a lot of brands that do. We work with them on defining appropriate behavior and how this changes across cultures, because some cultures, particularly Latino cultures, the "abrazo" (embrace) is part of our culture. 

So we started with the directors of operations across the country and the HR incidents that were employee-driven and (those) from customers, which are altogether different. ... And we looked at what's appropriate and what that looks like. And we also looked at the culture of the company. 

Q: How does your organization develop policies in relation to this subject?

Hostmark: We do a good policy review and then it's partnering with a good labor attorney. ... It's important that the policy (clearly defines harassment) and then making sure you are reporting from that. ... And then also, it's important that (education about the policy) is part of onboarding. ... It's really about how you promote your culture and making sure you have a culture of respect, then focusing on how you support that culture. 

Ivar's: For some companies (an example of those who may not wish to engage or cannot afford to engage a labor attorney's services), a great place also to start is the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunities Commission) website because there's a lot of great information there that will help you develop your own policies. 
Also if you do have a (sexual harassment policy educational) poster, be sure you switch it up every years because there are a lot of posters up on our walls and if it stands out - like changing the color or font - employees will notice it every year. 

MFHA: It's really important that (policies around the subject) be talked about a lot. ... So with saying that (employees should) "do the right thing"? Well, what does that look like? And when  does saying, "Oh, I was just kidding!" (around a potentially harassing behavior) ... when does that cross the line into being something else?

Q: What is the value of training for your organization and what does that (training) look like? 

Hostmark:We do partner with (e-training provider) Discoverlink.com for compliance for our managers for... skills development and how you communicate with your staff and ... how to teach the right and wrong.

Ivar's: For us, the value ... is in preventing any person from becoming a victim, let alone having it turn into a lawsuit and ... the bad publicity to the  entire brand (that often accompanies and publicized lawsuit). That makes it harder to attract employees if you get that kind of reputation (related to a sexual harassment claim). ... But then again, district managers play an important role in this area by making themselves available and talking to employees when they come to a restaurant, rather than being on their laptops in the back of the restaurant.

MFHA:The companies that do this best are talking about (the issue) all the time ... I mean at every meeting. 

Q: How do you make this a key performance indicator and what role do hiring practices play in that? 

Hostmark: I think it's very important in the first days (with a new employee) to let them know how they are doing and what we want them to do. 

Ivar's: And work the questions into the job interview as well about how they like to be treated at work and how they expect to be treated at work. 

MFHA:I'd say also that (asking about) scenario-based kinds of things like, "Let's say you heard this had taken place and you're the manager, what would your action plan be? ... Another is, "What if you heard about (harassment) third-hand, what do you do?" So, really more of those kinds of scenarios because ... people will "tell" on themselves.

Q: What about how you handle harassment issues when dealing with customers? 

Hostmark: That's part of the conversation into what harassment is, for us ... because in hotel roles we're seeing more and more (use) of (housekeeper) panick buttons with room attendants in guest rooms.

Ivar's: Yes, that situation may be different from what happens with use, but the response we teach is exactly the same: If (employees) are harassed or witness harassment, then you need to tell somebody ... and it's really about making managers accessible to make sure it's dealt with properly. 

Q: Do you have any tips on this subject for other restaurateurs?

Hostmark: I'd say despite all the good things we all try to do, occasionally this stuff still happens. But you still have to continue to stay focused on this issue until those situations are few and far between, to never happening at all. Also, for us, we're looking to implement third-party (conducted) exit interviews with all our managers to help. 

Ivar's: And really, I'd also say connect with other restaurant people who are doing it well now. 

Q: Lastly, what about problems with harassment associated with cultural biases?  

MFHA: There are haters in every group of people ... but "one and done" is not going to work with this issue. So Starbucks is doing (an educational event for employees around harassment) ... but just that one-time event is not going to work, but that in the totality of (other efforts) is how you change (workplace) cultures — that, and serious consequences for those who do (engage in harassing behaviors). 

But if you have a brain, you have bias because it's natural and normal to have bias ... so sometimes you make bad decisions and project that onto the people you are dealing with. 

Ivar's: Yes, you have biases because we're human ... and it takes training and it takes a conversation and making mistakes and learning from those mistakes to change ... but if you have supportive management that is helping (employees) to learn and grow, with time and effort it will be worth it in the end. 

Also, I think it's helpful to periodically review your hiring statistics. ... So look at the (hiring) executive and ask, "Is it impossible for anyone who doesn't look exactly like that (executive) to get into leadership?" 

MFHA: Also, look and see if everybody is from the same school ... and then you have to have those honest conversations about that ... and give people real safe places to answer, or you're not going to make any progress. 

Photo: iStock
 


Topics: Ethnic, Human Resources, Insurance / Risk Management, Legal Issues, National Restaurant Association, Staffing & Training, Workforce Management



S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.


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