by Jamie Gardner | January 5, 2018

Jamie Gardner of AlliedPRALast year will go down as the year of reckoning for the entertainment industry, news outlets and politicians as claims of sexual harassment across the board exploded throughout the year. The recent scandals involving Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and other high-profile celebrities have shined a new light on a problem that has existed for some time. A cultural shift needs to occur, and this important issue needs to be addressed on many fronts and given the respect it deserves. But what does this mean for those in the meetings and hospitality industry, and what steps should be taken to ensure people feel safe and comfortable in office and event settings?

M&C has addressed this topic in recent research confirming that the problem is prevalent in our business as well as legal advice and immediate actions to take should an incident occur at an event. M&C's editor in chief also reflected on this important topic in her recent column.

According to a United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report on sexual harassment, “sexual harassment is a serious problem for women working in the hospitality industry, due in part to the unusual hours and conditions of work, the interactions of persons in the delivery service and traditional personnel practices in the industry.”

AlliedPRA has developed a white paper to guide our employees and field staff on efforts to eliminate hostile work environments, which is defined in part as unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that interferes with an employee’s work performance.

With this issue being on the forefront of what we see in our feeds, reports of sexual harassment are likely to increase, which is a good thing. When in the past employees subjected to sexually harassing conduct might have been apprehensive to make formal complaints for fear of retaliation or social intimidation, now they may feel empowered to step forward.

As employers, we have a responsibility to provide a work environment that is free from discrimination, and once we have learned that discrimination has occurred, we must perform a thorough investigation and take immediate action to remedy the situation. Not only does the law require it, but it is the right thing to do.

Steps to Take
Steps to prevent, recognize and respond to problems quickly must occur. This requires cultivating a culture where employees feel encouraged to report incidents without fear of reprisal, and management posture that gives reported incidents priority. While some reports might not meet the standards for further action, those that do could require an outside investigator to ensure an objective and thorough review. When wrongdoing is found, appropriate remedial measures can take the form of training, verbal counseling, one-on-one counseling/executive training, “last chance” agreements, demotions, salary reductions, rescinding of a bonus, terminations or other measures that can put a stop to wrongful behavior.

Policy Guidelines
A policy that clearly states what is not tolerated, and training to ensure everyone is aware of the policy and enforcement methods, should include the following:

  • Address the company’s philosophy on having a workplace free from discrimination, communicate the value in diversity and identify classes of protected individuals;
  • Establish a stance on zero tolerance;
  • Set clear definitions around prohibited conduct, so employees and other staff recognize it when they see it;
  • Institute procedures to encourage employees to immediately report violations (whether as a bystander or as the recipient of such conduct), without requiring them to report to their supervisor;
  • These procedures should also make it mandatory that management and supervisors report all witnessed violations;
  • Detail the company’s response and investigation procedures, with assurance that that all complaints will be followed by a fair, complete and timely investigation;
  • State that, to the extent possible, confidentiality will be maintained;
  • Make it clear that employees who report in good faith or who participate in an investigation will not be subject to retaliation or reprisal, and
  • Communicate the disciplinary procedures for violating the policy “up to and including termination.”

Often, discussions on harassment prevention and response center on legal exposure and liabilities. It is important to remember that reports of sexual harassment involve real people with real emotions, and these instances affect lives. We certainly want to limit our exposure to such claims, but, to a greater extent, we always want to protect our employees against being subjected to harassing conduct, and when reports are made, every effort should be made to treat all who are involved with dignity, understanding and respect.

Jamie Gardner is director of talent & team development for destination management firm AlliedPRA.