Last reviewed 9 May 2022

Following the launch of a new action plan, hospitality bosses have agreed a strict zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment of staff in their venues.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and UKHospitality announced that they have worked closely together to produce a practical resource to stop the harassment of hospitality staff being seen as “just part of the job”.

While more than half of women and two-thirds of LGBT people report experiencing workplace sexual harassment, the problem is particularly acute in hospitality.

The vast majority of bar and waiting staff say they have either experienced or witnessed inappropriate sexual behaviour. This can range from being asked whether they are “on the menu” to full sexual assault.

The plan advises venues to have consistent policies for dealing with customers who behave inappropriately around staff, including warning systems, instant removal or banning. It also contains safety and preventive advice, such as asking managers to avoid having a single member of staff wait on a large group, when sexual harassment is more likely to take place.

Although it has been developed for the hospitality industry, the EHRC has confirmed that it can be applied to any workplace.

A 2018 EHRC report (Ending Sexual Harassment at Work) found sexual harassment and assault being viewed by some employers as a “normal” part of a job in an environment where alcohol is consumed. One venue’s policy for dealing with stalking was simply to allow staff to hide in the back when the customer came in.

The new plan, Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work: Checklist and Action Plan — April 2022, can be found here.

It defines sexual harassment as “anything that violates someone’s dignity or makes them feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated, offended or like they are in a hostile environment”.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

All organisations should have a zero-tolerance stance against any form of bullying, discrimination or harassment. However, employers in customer-facing sectors should keep in mind that harassment may come from third parties and so should take extra steps to minimise the impact this could have on employees.

Failure to adequately address inappropriate behaviours and creating a culture which does not facilitate diversity and inclusion can prove detrimental for organisations.

Having clear policies and zero-tolerance communication on workplace harassment can help protect organisations against claims, as can regular staff training and a culture of professionalism.

Organisations might need to consider establishing clear standards of practice to remove any element of improper behaviour and make clear that the workplace is an environment of respect and equality.