A recent report found that there was an 18% increase in harassment complaints made by employees since 2017 within the food and drinks sector. Preliminary research gathered from workers in the hospitality industry found that 89% said they had experienced one or more incidents of sexual harassment in their working life.

According to ONS figures, there are more than 2.4 million people working in the hospitality industry in the UK, 54% of whom are women. Analysis of employment data by the Change Group found that while three in five kitchen and catering assistants are women, only one in four chefs are female. One female head chef described persistent attempts to undermine her “by talking about my body, my sex life, what I might be like in bed, how many people I might have slept with, what sexual positions I like, etc.”

Seven out of 10 waiting staff in the UK are female, but 58% of senior restaurant and catering staff are men. One waitress said she had been asked if she was “on the menu” by a customer when she was 17; another recalled having to rescue another waitress who had been pulled into a toilet cubicle by a customer. “She was banging on the door and we eventually had to call security, who stepped in. When the customer unlocked the door, he was claiming it to be ‘a laugh’,” she said.

As an industry, it is important that we implement measure to ensure the safety of our staff. If your business doesn’t have a current sexual harassment policy, it is essential that you implement one. Once you have your policy outlined, make sure every person you employ sees it, reads it, understands, it and accepts it.

Part of your policy should include a standard reporting and investigation procedure. Employees who are subjected to sexual harassment have already been victimized by the act(s). Don’t add to their victimisation by making reporting another type of assault. Your employees must believe that their complaint will be taken seriously, properly investigated, discreet, and that appropriate actions are taken within a reasonable amount of time.

As an industry focused on people it is more important than ever that our staff, the most influential people to a business, feel that they are safe in their place of work. Tackling this ever-growing problem should be a top priority for all hospitality leaders.