Sexual Harassment in the Spotlight


Operators need to have policies, procedures in place.

Operators need to have policies, procedures in place.

Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, radio talk-show host, professional speaker and former president of the National Restaurant Association, has ended his run for the White House.

Charges of sexual harassment and an alleged extramarital affair derailed the candidate. From the moment the harassment accusations were made public, Cain denied all charges.

Cain’s political journey set him off on a roller-coaster ride that he is not likely to forget.

But Herman Cain wasn’t alone on the roller coaster; unfortunately, the NRA was taken along for the ride.

Fielding questions from the media about the payments to former employees who charged Cain with sexual harassment, the association was under a spotlight that appeared mighty hot.

Reps from the NRA had to spend countless hours dealing with the media frenzy, all the while protecting the NRA and the restaurant industry’s reputation. Now that’s quite a balancing act, and a very tall order. The NRA was up to the job.

To my way of thinking the NRA handled the entire matter with a great deal of grace under fire while simultaneously keeping any collateral damage at bay.

During the intense coverage, some media outlets managed to assert that the restaurant industry was a ripe environment for sexual harassment without presenting a lot of facts to back it up. That’s a hard charge to defend against because, unfortunately, like all industries, foodservice is not immune.

Sexual harassment exists in just about all enterprises. So it makes sense for operators to do their homework on the subject to ensure their businesses and employees are protected.

In order for foodservice companies to guard against such abuses in the workplace, policies and procedures have to be explicit and clearly communicated. Good, well-thought-out policies should be nonnegotiable, both at restaurant headquarters and at the unit level.

Joleen Goronkin, president of People and Performance Strategies, a Human Resources consultancy, says that when it comes to keeping a work environment free of sexual harassment, “Management and leadership make the biggest difference.”

Goronkin says the initial training should set standards about what is, and what is not, appropriate behavior at work.

“It is also important to have an open-door policy. Employees should be encouraged to let someone know if they feel their supervisor or another superior is doing anything that they consider offensive or that makes them feel uncomfortable.”

Some restaurant companies have set up hotlines so employees can voice complaints on any perceived infractions concerning sexual harassment, or other forms of harassment.

In California the state mandates sexual harassment training. Goronkin thinks that makes sense. “All employers should train both supervisors and employees,” she says.

If a restaurant manager or supervisor is seeking information on training methods, there are a plethora of online courses and videos available.

But as Goronkin stresses, “Nothing beats the one-on-one conversation and standard setting by the general manager and other managers.”

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