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A 6 Pages Term Paper on Sexual Harassment in the Lodging Industry

     Sexual harassment is defined as any kind of sexual behavior that is unwelcome and/or inappropriate for the work place. Sexual harassment can embrace verbal harassment (i.e. derogatory comments or dirty jokes under the right circumstances), visual harassment (i.e. derogatory or embarrassing posters, cartoons, drawing, etc.), physical harassment, and sexual favors (i.e. sexual advances, confrontation with sexual demands.)

     Sexual harassment is also defined as "sexual advances or conducts that are against the wishes of the recipient". Sexual harassment also includes animosity that is gender-based and a sexually charged work environment. In the work place, sexual harassment can come from the owner, supervisor, manager, lead person, foreperson, co-worker and/or customer.

     However, sometimes sexual harassment does not restrict itself to the work place. Sexual harassment can come in many forms. Sexual harassment can also be found in schools.

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     Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination which is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC's guidelines define two types of sexual harassment: "quid pro quo" and "hostile environment."

     "Quid Pro Quo" Sexual Harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute "quid pro quo" sexual harassment when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual.

     While, "Hostile Environment" Sexual Harassment involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute "hostile environment" sexual harassment when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment

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     Though the country and its workforce are greatly affected by this new social disorder, the law does little to discourage it. The Federal statute only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, thereby eliminating or ignoring any prevalence of this social misconduct especially in smaller organizations.However, many states have similar laws that apply to many more businesses within their states. In California, for example, sexual harassment and other discriminatory conduct is prohibited by the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"). The statute is located in California Government Code Section 12940. With respect to claims of sexual harassment, the FEHA applies to employers who employ more than one person. Organizations set forth formal written policies and procedures designed to educate employees about the subject and avoid liability. A company can minimize the number of sexual harassment claims by:

  • Drafting and publicizing an anti sexual harassment policy;
  • Implementing a procedure for employees to follow if they feel they have been the victim of sexual harassment; and
  • Conducting company wide sexual harassment prevention trainings.

     According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: "Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendment. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when: submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment; submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantial interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."

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     The hospitality industry is especially susceptible to incidents of sexual harassing behaviors due to certain social characteristics. The most obvious is that of restaurant's attracting or recruiting employees with "outgoing personalities", especially for the wait staff. Wait staff who have a friendly and outgoing personality usually sell more to the customer which in turn produces higher profits for the restaurant as well as larger tips for the wait staff.  Today, people do not just go to restaurants to eat, but they go to be entertained. One has to just look at the explosion of Theme Restaurants to justify this statement. Due to the high number of people restaurant employees are in contact with on a daily basis whether it be customers or employees, those who have "outgoing or friendly personalities" are likely to be more social. Other social characteristics include the high degree of social contact in the workplace, the unusual hours of work, including long, irregular hours involving evenings and holidays and the involvement with a number of different people in the course of delivering the service. For these reasons, restaurants create a very informal atmosphere (environment) which in the end actually encourages greater intimacy with co-workers.

     Despite the education and awareness training that has been conducted, human resource professionals feel the biggest problem with this issue is that the majority of employees and managers are still unsure about what constitutes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be a confusing issue for many people because anything that is "unwelcome" can be determined in the mind of the receiver. "An important factor to understand in determining whether a behavior can be sexual harassment is that what matters most is how the behavior makes another person feel." In other words, what may be considered a harassing behavior to one person may be simple social interaction to another. "The line between work and social interaction in a restaurant setting can easily be blurred. And that makes monitoring harassment all the more difficult". And in the restaurant industry, where there is a lot of socializing between co-workers this is most difficult to determine where to draw the line. Part of the confusion lies in the vagueness of the law itself.

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     Sexual harassment does not only have to happen from management to employees or from employees to employees it can come in the form of delivery men, clients or customers and even service personnel in the establishment. This is known as third party sexual harassment. "Don't make the mistake of thinking that because sexual harassment isn't happening within the wall of a firm, the employees are off the hook. According to Title VII of the civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are liable for any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that occurs within the work environment"

     Sexual harassment in the lodging and restaurant industry can take many forms from a variety of personnel and management, as well as employees who have to be aware of "what is sexual harassment? It is far more than physical assault or a demand for sex in order to retain a job or be promoted. It can be

  • suggestive remarks
  • teasing or taunting of a sexual nature
  • unwelcome physical conduct or sexual advances
  • sexual bantering
  • bragging about sexual prowess
  • office or locker-room pinups
  • "compliments" with sexual overtones

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     The following study was undertaken to understand the issues underlying the problems about Sexual embarrassments. It posed a series of demographic, work experience and sexual harassment perception questions to both male and female restaurant employees. The purpose of the study was to better understand what restaurant employees perceive is sexual harassment whether by manager, co-worker or customer. The survey instrument contained 20 questions to parallel debates and findings developed through a literature review of similar research.

     The survey included a total of 5 demographic questions, one work history question and 14 sexual harassment perception questions. To assure content validity, the 20 question survey was designed by researchers with expertise in the Human Resources of the restaurant industry. Once developed, the questionnaire was pre-tested to a group of 24 students enrolled in the Hotel, Restaurant  and Tourism Management Program in the School of Human Resources at Southwestern Louisiana University.

     The finalized version of the study was distributed to exactly 100 restaurant employees in the city of Lafayette, Louisiana.  Survey distribution was conducted exclusively at five, full service restaurants with equal distribution, each restaurant receiving 20 surveys. This research article presents key findings from many of the questions developed in the survey.

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     Of the 100 surveys that were distributed there were 72 useable surveys returned. Of the surveys that were returned, 46% of the respondents were female, while 54% of the respondents were male.

     Respondent’s age:  Respondents to this question were asked to select from five age specific response categories. Respondents were asked to indicate their age by selecting from 18 years or less, 19-21 years, 22-25 years, 26-30 years, and 31 years or older. This information was then cross-tabulated for female and male respondents.

     By analyzing the midpoint for each of these responses (and assuming the same ratio for the low and high end responses,) it was possible to develop an overall weighted average for both females and males alike. The weighted average age of female respondents was 21.6 years. The weighted average age of male respondents was 23.9 years. An overwhelming majority (80.5%) of the respondents have indicated they are between the ages of 18 and 25 years old.

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     When asked if Sexual Harassment occurs more often in the Hospitality Industry, this question sought to understand the perception of the respondents that sexual harassment occurs more often in the restaurant industry than in other industries.

     Respondents were asked if they felt that sexual harassment occurs more often in the hospitality industry than in other industries. Over 60%, (60.6%) of the respondents stated that they felt sexual harassment occurs more often in the restaurant industry than other industries. The female respondents overwhelmingly agreed with almost 70% (69.6%), stating that sexual harassment occurs more often in these kind of industries than other industries. Over one halve{ (52.6%) of the male respondents also agreed with the majority of the female respondents that sexual harassment occurs more often in the restaurant industry than other industries.

     When asked if sexual harassment is more acceptable in the hospitality industry than in other industries, 71.4% of the respondents felt sexual harassment is more accepted than in other industries. Over 80% (80.6%) of the female respondents and 64.1% of the male respondents feel that sexual harassment is more acceptable in the restaurant industry than in other industries.

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     Respondents were asked their perception on Employees dating in the workplace and questioned that in the workplace, if two employees are dating each other it could be considered sexual harassment. Did they feel that this would constitute sexual harassment in the hospitality industry?

     By assigning a Likert scale value to each of the five response categories, it was possible to develop an overall weighted average level of impact from the presence of gaming on respondents' decisions to visit a state for business or pleasure. The Likert values assigned: I to "strong negative impact," 2 to "slight negative impact," 3 to "no impact." 4 to "slight positive impact," and 5 to "strong positive impact."

     Respondents were asked if the hotels they are currently employed at have a sexual harassment policy, their choices were: yes, no or unsure. Almost one third, (32.9%) of the respondents answered no or unsure. In other words, over one third of the employees stated that they were uninformed of a sexual harassment policy in the respective hotels where they are employed.

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     Employees were asked if they have ever felt they were sexually harassed at work by a customer, manager or co-worker and over 30% (30.9%) of the respondents stated yes.  Female respondents stated they have felt sexually harassed by a customer, manager or co-worker 42.4%, with 21.2% of the male respondents having a similar experience.

     An industry with such a large female workforce is bound to have its share of sexual harassment incidents, involving both staff and guests. Another study by Jerome Agrusa and John Tanner, (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Wendy Coats (A.C. and Associates), and Jennifer Sio Leng Leong (Hong Kong Polytechnic University), compared the perceptions of sexual harassment by Hospitality Employees in China (PRC) and the United States. The study was driven by fact that sexual harassment lawsuits are on the rise, costing the industry big time both in litigation costs and settlements. The results were based on 674 questionnaires  distributed to restaurant employees (330 in the US, 344 in Hong Kong SAR). One of the main conclusions was a wide gap in perceptions about what actually constitutes harassment. Asked if it occurs more in their environment than other industries, 63.8% of American respondents said yes, but only 36.2% of Hong Kong SAR respondents concurred. But when asked "If a customer flirts with you, is it sexual harassment?", only 24.2% of US respondents said yes, compared with 78.8% of Hong Kong SAR respondents. The study noted that many companies don't have policies about sexual harassment, while in other companies; employees are unaware that their companies have such policies.

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     Sexual harassment has been unlawful under federal anti-discrimination legislation for more than 10 years, however, complaints of sexual harassment continue to run at a disproportionately high rate. Since 1994, complaints of sexual harassment have comprised half of all complaints under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

     Allowing sexual harassment to remain unchecked can expose employers to the cost inconvenience and damaging publicity of legal proceedings and compensation claims. Employers are not only liable for their own acts of sexual harassment. They can also be held legally responsible for sexual harassment by their employees unless all reasonable precautions were taken.

     The Sexual Harassment Code of Practice was developed in response to calls from employers for advice on how they could best meet their responsibilities under the federal Sex Discrimination Act.

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The Code provides employers with practical guidance on the sexual harassment provisions in the federal Sex Discrimination Act. It is designed to assist employers to implement policies and procedures which will eliminate and prevent sexual harassment at work. It aims to:

  • advise employers on how the sexual harassment provisions in the Act apply to them;
  • explain the mandatory requirements of the legislation;
  • clarify general principles and concepts from case law;
  • recommend practical measures that can be taken to ensure compliance and reduce the risk of liability; and
  • suggest particular strategies that can be adopted by small business.

     Although the Code itself is not legally binding or enforceable, it does incorporate mandatory aspects of the legislation and established principles from the case law and employers are therefore strongly encouraged to implement it in the workplace.

     The Sexual Harassment Code of Practice  contains information on prohibited conduct; principles and examples from case law; liability of individual persons, employers and unions; duties of employers; preventative and remedial measures; informal and formal complaint procedures; strategies for small business; a sexual harassment policy checklist; and notes on record keeping, defamation and termination of employment.

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     Hospitality industry employers are among the hardest hit when it comes to sexual harassment litigation.  They are particularly vulnerable to claims of sexual harassment due to a number of factors including high employee turnover, a high ratio of female to male employees and the fact that many employees work in various, and sometimes in isolated, areas of a property throughout the day.  As a result of two recent U.S. Supreme cases, however, there are specific steps employers can now take to reduce the potential for liability and high jury verdicts in sexual harassment cases. 

     In the decisions of Farragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries v. Ellerth, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed existing law which provides that an employer can be liable for a supervisor’s sexual harassment of an employee where the employer had no knowledge of the supervisor’s harassing actions and also where the employee did not complain about the alleged misconduct. 

     The court also held that an employee does not have to sustain an adverse employment action as a result of the sexual harassment in order to bring litigation. Thus, an employee does not have to suffer a tangible injury such as a demotion, loss of promotion or termination; the mere fact that sexual harassment took place is sufficient to state a claim and be taken seriously. 

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Conclusion

     Today our society is a litigation society and lodging and restaurant owners and managers have to take a pro-active roll in preventing sexual harassment law suits. With over 30.9% of the restaurant employees surveyed perceive that they have been sexually harassed at work at sometime during their employment and over four out often (42.4%) of the female employees stating they have felt sexually harassed while at work, potential lawsuits are looming. While all the restaurants that were used in this study where the surveys were conducted do have a sexual harassment policy, almost one third (32.9%) of the restaurant employees stated that the restaurant where they are currently employed did not have or were unsure of a sexual harassment policy.

     Management and owners have to do a better job of informing their employees of the hotel sexual harassment policies. One way that owners and managers can limit their liability in sexual harassment lawsuits is to take reasonable precautions by following EEOC guidelines related to sexual harassment such as issuing a policy prohibiting sexual harassment, establishing grievance procedures, establish a procedure for corroborating a change and establish discipline for violations.  By making certain that all employees are aware of the restaurants sexual harassment policy, in case of a sexual harassment claim, the policy can be used to document the firms’ proactive stance. A way of assuring that all employees are aware of the sexual harassment policy is to have the sexual harassment policies posted so that it is in plain view of all employees, as well as have all employees and supervisors sign a form that they are aware of the sexual harassment policies for the firm.  This may seem like a lot of unnecessary paperwork, but it could save a hotel or a restaurant when a sexual harassment lawsuit is filed.

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Works Cited

Anders, K. T. (1993). Who's Harassing Whom In Restaurants? Restaurant Business, January 20, 1993, pp.46-54.

Business and Legal Reports, Inc. (1995). Pocket Guide to Preventing Sexual Harassment, November 1996 Edition, p.15.

Laabs, J. (1995). What To Do When Sexual Harassment comes Calling? Personnel Journal, July 1995, pp.42-53.

Palmer, R. A. (1997). Sexual Harassment at School: New Concerns for Colleges and Universities. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Education, Vol.9, pp. 76-78.

Sherry, J. (1995). Employer Liability for GM's Sexual Harassment. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, August 1995, pp. 16-17.

Verespej, M. A. (1995). New-Age Sexual Harassment. Industry Week, May 15, 1995, pp.64-68. Law guru Section- sexual Harassment- www.lawguru.com/faq/16.html
Matt Martin P.C,
http://www.mattmartin.com/sexual_harr_outline.html

Jerome F. Agrusa and Wendy Coats. Sex Discrimination
http://www.hreoc.gov.au/sex_discrimination/sexual_harrassment/code_of_practice.html

Hotels online-http://search.botbot.com/bot/m/d.html$%22Sexual+harassment+++Lodging+Industry%22?v025



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