Updated: Jun 14, 2019
Let’s start this off right - No one has the right to touch the sexual parts of someone else’s body. Not just morally - legally, no one has the right to touch the sexual parts of someone else’s body. There is variance between states in terminology, but within the workplace there are especially thorough federal anti-discrimination laws covering sexual harassment that specifically cover unwanted touch (and many other behaviors) that create a hostile work environment. So why within the restaurant industry is it so often illegally permitted to happen?
In the rare instance a restaurant has included a corporate (ill-fitting) sexual harassment policy into their hiring packet, these policies are signed on the last page but never read. So why do you want to get clear on physical boundaries within your business? Why do you want to maintain a respectful work environment? Why do you want to purchase our sexual harassment policy and training, which asks your employees to initial and agree to uphold specifically outlined boundaries (simply, eloquently, and empoweringly) in what has been a boundary-less industry?
According to the E.E.O.C, the service industry has the highest number of sexual harassment complaints, outweighing any other industry.
We can address the need for specified boundaries by looking at the reasons people cross them, and what that costs you as an employer.
REASON # 1 – “IT’S ALL IN GOOD FUN.”
Excuse - It’s all in good fun, isn’t it? It’s ALL innocent, isn’t it? Now there certainly can be an aspect of play and innocence involved. I’ve worked in environments with friends and experienced friendly taps on the butt that didn’t offend me. But there’s also always been someone that crossed the line (or thinks it’s ok because he witnessed close friends doing it). But we’re all friends, aren’t we? It’s all just fun . . . until it isn’t. Until someone with sexual or disrespectful intentions takes it too far. Until someone doesn’t think it’s funny, or want to be touched that way.
Excuse - We're all "friends," we all know each other’s names, and we’re coworkers... so don’t we have this right?
The answer is – of course not. It is a workplace, and you never have the right to touch a sexual part of another person’s body. Legally, unless verbal consent is given, the assumed answer is no. Unfortunately, when company leadership doesn’t take a stand, many employees misunderstand this. Not only does this have the potential to lead to lawsuits, it leads to toxic culture where trespass is the norm. It’s actually really difficult to have conversations with fellow employees to inform them that you feel uncomfortable, and often the victim is blamed and people become defensive.
The reasons boundaries exist (according to law) is to allow people the opportunity to feel safe and to set standards of respect that everyone has the right to. Negative intentions can play a harmful role, but even with "friendly" intention trespass can still occur. Your body is yours and no one else has the right to touch a sexual part of you. When a work environment doesn't have boundaries, lines always get crossed. I've witnessed the most "hands on" employees feel violated by others doing the same. Without boundaries, there will always be messes to clean up. Feelings get hurt. What is "fun," to someone else can easily be trespass to another, and their "fun," does not supersede someone else's right to feel safe.
Because it really isn’t all in good fun, and what is disguised as “fun” can often have bad intent.
REASON # 2 – ALPHA/DOMINANCE
This brings us to aggressive undertones of inappropriate touch. This isn’t really an expression of sexuality, per se, but rather of being dominant. “I get to do this,” is the tone. Sometimes this can happen in the kitchen - men grabbing another’s crotch. Or pushing into a woman. Body checks. Physical touch as a punishment, as intimidation, or to shut you up. Sometimes it’s a hand on the ass. Sometimes dominance has the simplicity of a "get out of my way" vibe. I want you to move out of my way (or recognize that I am in charge) and grabbing/touching a sexual part of the body is the most powerful way I can enforce my will. Are some people comfortable enough with each other to engage in close contact? Of course. Is everyone in your staff comfortable with everyone else doing that, and does it create a professional environment? OF COURSE NOT. It leads to trespass, and is against their legal rights. If it's unwanted, it's harassment.
So much of sexual harassment is about power (or the lack of it).
When you don’t have boundaries, disrespectful people will set the energetic tone of your business – PERIOD. Disrespectful people are often aggressive about their intentions, about their jokes towards others, and about physically expressing their will. Again, toxicity abounds and the guests can perceive this. Is this what you want in your company?
REASON # 3 – SEXUAL TOUCH
Ah the sexual part, of touching a sexual part of someone else’s body. Excuse - We work together, so that gives me the right to feel a sexual part of your body for my own gratification or curiosity – of course not! Legally, morally, the answer is no. Sometimes people will offer sexual touch as a means of gauging someone else’s romantic interest. How will she react if I touch her ass/breast? How can I act like this is accidental? How can I physically interact with sexual tension? All of us relate to misperceiving someone else’s romantic interest, but when anyone assumes they have the right to touch a coworker, the law intervenes because of all of the difficulties involved in the victims being able to defend themselves in a work environment. When there aren’t boundaries, people trespass regularly because their employer unlawfully gives them full right to do so.
I've worked in restaurants with reported rapes. I've experienced disgusting groping, physical and verbal degradation (from managers, customers, and coworkers). My experiences are common and part of the industry's accepted "norm." The problem is people in power aren't setting any boundaries informing a diverse group of people what behavior is absolutely unacceptable. To the contrary - the restaurant industry on the whole has condoned such abusive behavior.
If you want to investigate the sad, undeniable truth about the pervasiveness of trespass within restaurant culture, check out this article from the post, on just how bad it is: Washington Post Article, "Rape in the storage room. Groping at the bar. Why is the restaurant industry so terrible for women?"
Many people do not know that physical boundaries are a legal right, and disrespectful people give themselves reasons and excuses for their behavior. “She’s asking for it.” “ This person has this reputation,” and so on. People wrongly justify that their behavior is acceptable on some level, and even wanted. I've seen many coworkers mistake friendliness for welcoming sexual touch. Many people misperceive that their behavior is invited, and there is little recourse available to correct it. Without boundaries, it’s easy to have misunderstandings and it’s so difficult to safeguard respect. Not only will there be trespass, it’s very difficult to correct the problem when you haven't established guidelines for unacceptable behavior.
Sexual harassment perpetuates itself in toxic environments (without boundaries), because the company has illegally established that this behavior is accepted.
When you have strong boundaries and continued dialog maintaining a respectful environment, you protect yourself from so many of the consequences of letting toxic culture ruin your company. Different than dry corporate dialog that doesn't address restaurant culture, our sexual harassment policy has solutions that create boundaries with ease. When NO ONE can touch a sexual part of someone else's body on your premises as a rule, well you just got rid of eighty percent of the potential for ongoing harassment right there. When you DECIDE that your workers have the right to respect, well you just created a workforce of proud employees who want to keep their jobs and aren't busy spending their workday trying to protect themselves.
REASON #4 – WE WORK IN CLOSE QUARTERS.
This is the most common excuse. "Oh we work so closely with each other, it’s impossible not to touch someone else’s butt, breasts, or crotch." Is it??? Is it impossible? I have some of the longest limbs and I manage. More importantly, don’t you insist that your staff does this with your customers??? If a server is reaching in front of a guest to drop off a cocktail, should he not have enough body awareness to avoid touching her breasts? Why is it ok when he neglects to take the same care with his coworker in the bar well??? Again, legally you can’t intentionally touch the sexual parts of a coworker's body (without consent), and at some point, as a company you’re going to have problems. It’s easy when walking past someone else, to tuck your hand in a manner to allow each of you to pass by each other cleanly. Why in busy restaurants is that afforded to the guest and not the staff? Further, it’s easy to let someone know you need to get to their right, by touching their shoulder and/or verbally acknowledging it. It’s actually easier than reaching for their ass. There is an increase in stress when people are too physically entangled in each other’s space (especially with the negative energy of mixed intentions, because it’s never all in fun).
In toxic environments, aggressive employees are easily able to disguise their trespass as "accidental." They know there are no repercussions. (Interestingly, it always seems to be the same handful of people who can't help but "accidentally" touch you at work.) A wild arm motion leading to cupping a breast, walking past a coworker and tracing their butt with your fingers... What complaint can an employee raise, for "incidental" touch?
How can a busy worker protect herself from trespass that occurs during a busy shift, in front of customers and other staff? By setting boundaries in the first place.
As our sexual harassment policy covers this aspect of the industry, in fast-paced environments accidental contact will happen. You just briefly acknowledge it in the moment. “Pardon!” That’s it. You are acknowledging that you touched something you do not have the right to, and that it wasn’t your intention. Our sexual harassment policy outlines physical boundaries, so that problems are corrected before they start. It also briefly states that pretending that it's accidental, will not be allowed. It’s just setting boundaries and intentions. When you are clear about what you require as an employer, (what is accepted and what is not accepted) people know what to navigate to. Problems are addressed quickly because you’ve acknowledged what is unacceptable as well as the consequences of threatening a respectful environment (and someone else’s rights).
It’s not difficult to work in a clear boundary environment. It’s easier. There aren’t more problems to manage, there are less.
And now for the real reason there is such pervasive trespass within the restaurant industry ...
REASON #5 - NO ONE HAS INFORMED RESTAURANT EMPLOYEES THE LEGAL AND MORAL STANDARDS OF PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES.
There is such ignorance within the restaurant industry in terms of what harassment is, what each individual's legal rights to boundaries are. The underlying problem is that no one is informing anyone anything different, and there aren't established boundaries. But there is a change happening in this industry. Integrity, honesty, and openness are starting to truly impact employers. Suddenly, more and more people are being held accountable. There is a dehumanization that happens in work environments where people don't care how they impact fellow human beings. When disrespect is so normalized, there is a toxicity that harms your employees, your business, that leads to lawsuits, worsened job performance, and a negative atmosphere that deters customers.
When an employee is trespassed on, it is the employer's legal responsibility to end the harassment and to maintain a respectful environment. In federal law, the perpetrator isn't held accountable, the employer is.
Sometimes, in managing such diversity in your employees, it can seem overwhelming to create a respectful environment, and to uphold legal standards. But you care, and you're ready to start it right.
Let us help you. Our sexual harassment policy is specifically tailored to restaurants. When you purchase it, we also include resources in terms of outsourcing HR, what your legal requirements are in terms of dealing with sexual harassment claims, and simple training for your managers to maintain a respectful environment. All of you will enjoy work MORE.
True fun is something that occurs when people are genuinely happy. Physical trespass does not create "fun" atmospheres. There is so much more enjoyment and profit that your company can open up to when you start with a culture of respect. Even if workers are used to the poor standards this industry has kept them in, at their heart they don't want to be in toxic environments. Everyone has the right to dignity, and you are going to genuinely feel the difference maintaining that standard. Your employees and your customers are going to feel it.