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Action Plan Announced to Tackle Sexual Harassment Culture in Hospitality

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Hospitality bosses have agreed a strict zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment of staff in their venues with the launch of a new action plan today.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and UKHospitality have worked closely together to produce a practical resource to stop the harassment of bar and restaurant staff being seen as ‘just part of the job’.

It advises venues to have consistent policies for dealing with customers who behave inappropriately around employees, including warning systems, instant removal or banning.

The resource also contains safety and preventative 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.

The guidance has been developed for the hospitality industry but can be applied to any workplace.

More than half of women and two-thirds of LGBT people report experiencing workplace sexual harassment. But 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.

Many hospitality staff experiencing harassment do not get management support. A 2018 EHRC report identified that sexual harassment and assault are 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 guidance – Preventing sexual harassment at work: checklist and action plan – helps venues to put appropriate structures in place to protect their employees. 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”.

The checklist will be hosted and promoted by UKHospitality, the leading industry body for the sector.

Marcial Boo, Chief Executive of the EHRC, said:

“We are determined to crack down on any culture of unacceptable sexual harassment in bars, restaurants or hotels in Britain.

“All employers have a duty of care to their staff. This means that inappropriate behaviour, whether lewd jokes, sexist comments or wandering hands, should never be ‘just part of the job’, even when your customers have consumed alcohol.

“We welcome the co-operation with UKHospitality to produce this guidance to give managers the tools they need to tackle problematic behaviour and protect their staff.”

UKHospitality Chief Executive, Kate Nicholls, said:

“There can be no place for sexual harassment within hospitality, so this new checklist and action plan to drive it out of our industry is a very welcome step in the right direction.

“UKHospitality has for some years engaged with employee organisations and the Health and Safety Executive to discuss solutions to safeguard hospitality staff, particularly those in potentially vulnerable roles, but clearly more needs to be done if we’re to rid ourselves of inappropriate and unwanted workplace behaviour.”

The news comes ahead of the publication of the Government Equality Hub's sexual harassment guidance.

The EHRC has previously taken action to tackle harassment in the workplace by signing legally-binding agreements with Sainsbury’s, Paradigm Precision and Highways England, committing the organisations to action plans which will protect their staff.