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One of my clients has a number of establishments operating in the hospitality sector. With the better weather, more and more people are going out and enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, this has led to a number of incidents of harassment towards, and within, their staff members, as the enjoyment is taken too far. My client is concerned, as not only have affected staff members said they might leave for other employment, but they have also threatened that as the employer, they could be responsible for this behaviour.

How can I help my client put a stop to this and avoid these consequences?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has joined with UK Hospitality to publish a new action plan and checklist for employers, to help them stop sexual harassment in the workplace. This was created following research which found the majority of hospitality workers had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment; most found it to be a “normal” part of the job. The guidance highlights that employers can be held vicariously liable should incidents occur, if they don’t take reasonable steps to prevent it in the first place.

These action points and checklist can be implemented by your client into their business, in order to safeguard their staff and also their own liability. They should be encouraged to focus on communication with staff, about what is happening, and why. It is essential that your client lets their staff know what is being introduced and how they can use it in practice, in order to ensure the effectiveness of the new measures.

Another area the checklist encourages focus is changes to the working environment and working practices. By reducing the opportunities for an employee to face sexual harassment, your client can prevent the likelihood of this happening. This can include reducing potential triggers such as requiring more than one employee to make decisions on the hours of junior staff and creating a fair process for the distribution of incentives.

The following are action points that can be recommended to your client, taken from the EHRC and UK Hospitality checklist:

  • Make sure nobody works alone and make the environment (such as lighting or working patterns) safer
  • Pay attention to more vulnerable staff such as young staff or those who don’t speak English as their first language who might be less likely to report something
  • Have policies for reporting instances of harassment including harassment by customers,
  • Allow for anonymous reporting
  • Ensure staff have more than one trusted person they can go to, other than their line manager, if they have an issue, and that they know who they are
  • Use posters or notices to inform customers harassment is not acceptable
  • Where there is a large customer booking, make sure they are served by two staff, not one
  • Make sure managers know what to do if an allegation is reported
  • Remind staff that social activities are still associated with the workplace and zero tolerance to harassment still applies
  • Record any issues with customers

By implementing these steps into their business, your client should create a safer working environment for their staff, that reduces the chances of sexual harassment happening and promotes dignity and respect for others.

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