Preliminary research, conducted as part of Unite Union’s Not on the Menu survey, found that 89% of workers in the hospitality industry had experienced one or more incidents of sexual harassment in their working life.
56.3% of participants said they had been targeted by a member of the public and 22.7% said they had been harassed by a manager. At least half of workers who had been harassed said the experience made them feel unsafe, less confident at work and want to leave their job.
One of the most damning initial findings of the survey was the lack of clarity over sexual harassment policies in place within their working environment. When asked whether their workplace had an anti-sexual harassment policy in place, 77% said no or they did not know.
Employers have an obligation to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace by and against employees. This duty extends to work-related events and means that employers can be liable if one of their employees harasses another employee if it took place “in the course of their employment”.
However, there is no similar duty on employers to prevent their staff from being harassed by third parties, an issue that is common in the hospitality sector.
Charlotte Bence, a hospitality coordinator for Unite, told The Guardian there was an urgent need to reinstate the duty to protect staff from third-party harassment, scrapped by the government in 2013.
“Time and time again women – and men – are telling us that sexual harassment is just seen as part of their job. Standards of behaviour can slip when people don’t feel there is a need to be professional and people treat staff in bars, clubs and hotels in ways they wouldn’t dream of doing so in other environments.”
After an undercover journalist from the Financial Times revealed that hostesses were allegedly groped, sexually harassed and propositioned by attendees of a Presidents Club charity dinner, there has been a call for the reintroduction of the repealed provision contained in the Equality Act 2010. The Act rendered employers liable, in certain circumstances, for the harassment of their employees by third parties.
Until then, it is important to construct your own policies to ensure that your employees understand they are part of an environment that values their safety and that sexual harassment from customers and other employees will not be tolerated. This will ensure that staff are motivated and comfortable within their role and therefore benefit the overcome attitude of your business.
Training your staff on the appropriate behaviour at work will establish a narrative that sexual harassment will be properly investigated, as well as providing knowledge of ways to report an act if they are harassed. Adopting clear guidelines as to how complaints can be made, how investigations will be handled and what disciplinary measures will be considered, establishes to your employees that there is a space for conversation around sexual harassment. Opening the gate for communication shows that you will take a complaint seriously, and that a sensitive investigation will be taken.