Harassment is Still a Thing during Pandemic

January 19, 20213:50 pm466 views
Harassment is Still a Thing during Pandemic
Image source: Rawpixel

The pandemic has brought many unforeseen challenges for many industries, including the hospitality sector. One of many challenges include the increment in harassments directed at service workers by patrons. One Fair Wage study showed that 41 percent of the 1,675 service workers surveyed reported they are sexually harassed more often now than they were before the pandemic. Many also reported being harassed for enforcing COVID-19 restrictions. Female respondents told One Fair Wage that it was common for customers to ask them to take off their mask to see their pretty face, for example. 

According to One Fair Wage study, one significant reason behind the rising cases of harassment is that employees who are already compromised by limited earning potential during the pandemic are reluctant to speak up. Likewise, employees struggling to survive are also reluctant to confront customers or co-workers who cross the line. 

See also: How to Deal with Workplace Harassment & Discrimination? 

Harassment remains a challenge for employers and HR  

Pandemic-related issues will likely continue to dominate the news, however harassment related issues will likely continue to be the major issue for employers and HR. In 2019, employers paid out $68,2 million to employees alleging sexual harassment violations through the EEOC, which is an increase from the previous all-time high set of $56,6 million in 2018. 

Through the year 2019 to 2020, Anita Hill-led Hollywood Commission’s survey on sexual harassment found that one in five industry women said they had been sexually assaulted at work over the course of their careers. And 1 in 20 said they were sexually assaulted on the job in just 12 months prior to taking the groundbreaking survey. 

Not only female workers, males are also the victims of sexual harassment in the industry. 10 percent of the 4,026 men who responded to the Anita Hill’s survey said they had been sexually assaulted during their careers, with 80 men saying they had been sexually assaulted on the job in the 12 months prior to taking the survey. 

While employers are not automatically liable for harassment of an employee, employers can be held liable if they are negligent or reckless in preventing or responding to such harassment. In the hospitality industry where third party’s harassment is more significant, for instance, if an employer suspects a customer is harassing an employee, there should be immediate action by the employer through a well-documented investigation, followed by aggressive action to prevent further harassment. 

Adjustment to protocols to address pandemic-related harassment  

Besides documents and quick response from employers, there should also be steps to protect front-line workers from harassment when enforcing coronavirus protocols. Focusing on the hospitality sector where harassment with most cases, according to One Fair wage, employers should train their workers on how to respond to customer’s demands or resistance and have a manager intervention to protect the harassed employees from retribution by the customers. 

The best plan is to be proactive. The managers are on the frontlines of preventing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation from occuring in the workplace. Therefore, it is critical that managers are equipped to stop harassment and any future harassment lawsuits in their tracks. Below are five key points to highlights in your prevention strategy: 

  • Know the policy – a well-crafted anti harassment policy will have zero-tolerance policy against all forms of unlawful harassment, dicrimination, and relation based on any protected category. The term “zero tolerance” should not be taken lightly and managers must be prepared to spot harassment and appropriately address it. Managers must know that the anti harassment policy helps encourage complaints and include several avenues for employees to make complaints. And make sure the policy is visible to the employees. 
  • Signs are clue – if an employee diminishes participation in group activities, strong dislike for or avoidance of certain customers or coworkers, decreased work performance, attendance problems, and/or an increase in stress-related health issue, managers should check in with the employee to see if there are any issues that the manager can address. In this step, make sure to be more human while following protocols that have been written. Do not ignore conduct that appears “welcomed” or “voluntary”. Employees might not feel empowered to address bad behaviour and feel pressured to just go along. 
  • Managers are leaders – managers must model good behaviours while on the job, in their mailing, text messaging, social media, and at after-hours events. Managers play a large role in the development of a company culture and set the right tone for a workplace environment. Hence, managers should not involve themselves in gossip or bad-mount others. They should practice acceptance and inclusion. 
  • Handle the complaints – as mentioned, immediate action is a must. Do not make employees feel that they are less valuable by delaying response on their reports. 
  • Involve HR  or ownership – managers must always and immediately report any potential violations of the anti-harassment, dicrimination, and retaliation policy to human resources or ownership. Afterall, an HR team is a professional team that could handle this directly and can deal with complicated laws on this matter. 

Read also: How Should HR Deal with Discrimination and Harassment Complaints?