Managing in the #MeToo Environment – Part II

Managing in the #MeToo Environment – Part I provided a look at the phenomenon referred to at #MeToo movement in which victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace have used social media to publicly air their grievance and allegations citing offenders and describing conduct that they experienced.

One effect of the #MeToo allegations has been the resignation or discharge of prominent executives and notable personalities in media, sports and politics. A second notable effect has been the rise in sex harassment charges and litigation leading to costly judgements against employers. 

This second installment of Managing in the #MeToo Environment provides practical tips for owners and managers of restaurants on how to protect your firm, your job and your livelihood from this costly disruptive outcome. Please recognize that information provided here is not to be construed as legal advice.

  • Define an anti-harassment policy.  An effective anti-harassment policy will make a strong statement against employment discrimination and harassment because of sex and other protected bases such as sex (including pregnancy), race, age, religion, color, national origin disability or genetic information, or other bases defined by state or local law and stating a protection from retaliation. 
  • Post your policy in the workplace and communicate its message to employees at time of hire, on the company web-site, and in an employee handbook.
  • Train supervisors to recognize and act to prevent conduct that violates the policy.
  • Train employees about the firm’s anti-harassment and equal employment opportunity policies, providing such training periodically.
  • From top management down, set example by dealing with employees in a respectful manner and not tolerating conduct that is disrespectful of others.  
  • Demonstrate a management style of pro-active prevention by being accessible and responsive to employees, and remain alert to address harassing conduct by customers. Consider the communication opportunities of employee opinion surveys with communication and follow-up on issues identified.
  • Update and revise employment policies on related personnel issues to control conduct that disrupts business operations or customer service such as on the job cell phone and social media use while on company time, and consider whether to define limits to fraternization between management and employees. Recognize that various state or federal laws may impact on these issues.
  • Provide multiple reporting mediums for an employee to present a complaint of harassment including human resources personnel, site management at the restaurant, and consider implementing an on-line or telephone complaint line. Adapt your complaint handling resources to be communication friendly to individuals whose native language is not English.
  • Strengthen HR role to maximize employee communications and to participate in investigation of complaints without undue influence from the line operations chain of command.
  • Respond to complaints by getting details from the complainant and providing feedback to the complainant on the findings, consistent with protecting confidentiality of personnel records.
  • Conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of harassment and discrimination complaints, evaluating the complainant’s allegation, getting input from any witnesses and considering the perspective of the alleged offender. Document investigative results, obtaining legal counsel advice as appropriate.
  • Do not retaliate against individuals who present complaints.  Employees must recognize that a harassment or discrimination complaint does not provide a free pass from complying with the employer’s performance management and employment policies.
  • Following your investigation, take appropriate corrective action consistent with the evidence and your firm’s employment and discipline policies. Document corrective actions taken.
  • Consult professional advisory services or legal counsel for advice during any phase of the employment process as deemed necessary.
  • Some employers have considered and purchased employment practices liability insurance which, subject to coverages purchased, provides an insurance protection against employment discrimination and harassment claims.