Thursday, April 6, 2023

The craft beer industry has a sexual harassment problem

According to the EEOC, the industry that generates the most sexual harassment reports (at more than 14% of all such claims filed with the agency) is hospitality and food service, which includes craft breweries.

Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted by Women On Tap, 73% of women report experiencing sexual harassment while working in a pub/bar. 

Simply stated, the craft beer industry has a sexual harassment problem.

Not only do bartenders and servers have to deal with harassment from coworkers and supervisors, but also from customers. Indeed, the mantra "the customer is always right" empowers some less scrupulous customers to take advantage, and tipped employees often fear powerless to do anything other than "putting up with it" out of fear of sacrificing their livelihoods. 

Let's be as clear as possible. Sexual harassment is illegal, immoral, and wrong. No employee should ever "have to put it up with it" as part of the job. No matter the perpetrator (co-worker, manager, owner, customer, vendor, contractor, whomever), a brewery's responsibility is exactly the same, which I've synthesized into 8 steps.

1.) Deploy a comprehensive and meaningful anti-harassment policy and train your employees on what it means.

2.) Discover that harassment is an issue. Your harassment response is only as good as your systems for those to report harassment and bring it to your attention. That reporting system should offer multiple avenues for an employee (victim or witness) to complain — HR, supervisors, managers, executives, and even anonymously. It should also include bystander training. The idea here is to make sure that anything inappropriate gets reported and nothing falls through the cracks.

3.) Separate the victim from the alleged harasser. I usually recommend sending the alleged harasser home until the investigation (see step 3) is complete.

4.) Investigate the allegations, promptly and fully. If you're not qualified to conduct this investigation yourself, there are plenty of qualified attorneys and other consultants who can run the investigation for you. One word of caution about hiring an attorney as your investigator — if the harassment complaint turns into litigation, the investigator will likely become a key witness, which would disqualify that attorney from representing you as litigation counsel. In other words, don't hire your employment litigator to serve as your harassment investigator, unless you're ready to hire a new employment litigator for that case.

5.) Evaluate the evidence and make a reasoned conclusion as to what happened. Your evaluation should be legally protected as long as it's your honest belief based on a reasonably thorough investigation.

6.) Correct the harassment with prompt and effective remedial steps, if necessary. The standard for the corrective action is reasonably effective. The accuser does not get to choose the remedy. As long as it's reasonably calculated to stop future harassment from occurring, then you've met your legal obligation. It could be anything from a warning, to a suspension, to termination. It will depend on the severity of the harassment and if it's a first offense versus a repeat offense, both of which will require an escalated response.

7.) Retrain all employees about your anti-harassment policy to help prevent future harassment.

8.) Never retaliate, ever. This really should be point number one. It's the easiest way to turn a defensible claim into an indefensible nightmare, and it will also chill others from coming forward with future harassment complaints or concerns.

Our craft beer industry is a unique and fun industry in which to work. Let's try to keep it that way from everyone by striving to make it harassment free.