QSR discrimination, harassment claims prevention: 5 steps QSR leaders should take

QSR discrimination, harassment claims prevention: 5 steps QSR leaders should take

By Jeffrey Frankel
Vice president of marketing/Traliant

Workplace discrimination and harassment claims have been a major challenge for the restaurant industry long before the wave of #MeToo scandals began. In fact, restaurant workers file more sexual harassment claims than those in any other industry, according to a report earlier this year in  Harvard Business Review.  
But, the unlawful conduct of workplace discrimination and harassment is not limited to sexual harassment. Some recent examples of lawsuits illustrate the range of complaints complaints from restaurant workers: 

  • A Chicago restaurant operator agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle a race discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC for allegedly refusing to hire African-American applicants because of their race. 
  • Another popular chainagreed to pay $45,000 to settle an EEOC age discrimination lawsuit that alleged the employer turned down a 59-year-old job applicant with more than 20 years' experience because the company wanted to "maximize longevity." 
  • A Mexican chain paid a former employee $550,000 after a jury ruled she was discriminated against and then fired after she became pregnant. The lawsuit said her manager required her to announce her bathroom breaks to all her co-workers and ignored her requests to leave early for doctor's appointments. When she went to her appointment anyway, she was fired. 
  • A regional chicken chain was ordered to pay $340,000 to 15 former female employees to settle an EEOC lawsuit alleging that managers subjected them to long-standing sexual harassment, including requests for sexual favors, sexually offensive comments and unwanted touching.

While there is no easy solution to preventing workplace discrimination and harassment, most experts recommend taking a holistic approach to addressing this pervasive problem. Here are five steps to help you get started:  

Set the tone from the top

As a QSR leader, your employees and managers look to you to set the tone for the values and behaviors you want reflected in your restaurants. Through your words and especially your actions you can set the standard for your organization's code of conduct and how employees should behave toward everyone they work or interact with. 

Develop and enforce an anti-harassment policy

A written anti-harassment policy should be easy to read and understand, while employing simple language to communicate its information. Skip the legal jargon and be sure to offer multilingual versions.

The idea is to clearly communicate that your organization doesn't allow any form of harassment, discrimination, retaliation or bullying. The policy should also emphasize that unacceptable behavior comes with consequences, and that anyone who violates your policy (and the law) is subject to disciplinary action up tom and including termination. 

Implement a training program for employees and managers

Since the #MeToo  movement, there has been a renewed focus on making discrimination and harassment training more interactive, engaging and relevant to a modern workforce. Thanks to mobile technology it's now a lot more convenient for employees with irregular work schedules to fit training in between shifts or during off-peak hour using smartphones or tablets.

Likewise, eLearning trends such as microlearning and interactivity are improving the training experience for employees, while also making it easier to tailor courses to your company's specific needs and brand. Instead of clicking through boring PowerPoint slides and legal definitions, employees can immerse themselves in short, interactive videos that challenge them to make the right decisions in realistic work situations.

Finally, when reviewing your training program, you'll want to make sure it's up to date with the latest federal, state and local requirements. New York State, New York City, California and Vermont are among the states and cities that have recently passed new legislation that may require employers to change their workplace policies and sexual harassment training. In addition to new laws, be sure to include information around new topics in discrimination and harassment prevention, including bystander intervention, diversity and inclusion, consensual relationships and unconscious bias. 

Implement an internal complaint process 

Implementing a formal complaint process at your workplaces is among the EEOC's "promising practices" for preventing workplace harassment. This should include information on your ethics hotline, that all employees can easily access to report suspected incidents of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and bullying.

Along with putting a complaint process in place, your human resources professionals or a designated manager should prepare to quickly respond to and investigate complaints. And it's important to communicate to employees that they won't be punished or retaliated against for reporting an incident or raising concerns about possible misconduct, as well as assuring them that the company will keep matters confidential to the extent that is possible. 

Good for business

Left unchecked, inappropriate behavior can create a toxic environment. This can lead to costly discrimination and harassment claims that can damage your organization's reputation and negatively impact customer loyalty, as well as your efforts to recruit and retain quality employees. With a strong commitment from leadership, these five steps can help you create and maintain a positive workplace, which will benefit your employees, customers and bottom line.

Jeffrey Frankel serves as vice president of marketing at Traliant, which provides online compliance training experiences that helps promote a positive workplace by motivating  employees to act ethically and speak up against harassment and discrimination.

Photo: iStock

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Human Resources, Legal Issues, Staffing & Training, Workforce Management

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