The hospitality industry is customer-service-oriented and seeks to provide others with an experience. From hotels to restaurants, employees interact with visitors from all over the world and even in their own communities. While these employees provide a valuable service, they, like workers in many other industries, can be exposed to inappropriate workplace conditions, including sexual harassment. When an employee is exposed to such behavior, they will not only feel less comfortable at work, but they will be less likely to maintain an appropriate work ethic.
At California Employment Counsel, we understand the detrimental implications of workplace sexual harassment, particularly in the hospitality industry. Our team understands that employees who experience sexual harassment are less likely to speak out for fear of retaliation or termination of employment. However, our experience has allowed us to help our clients understand their rights when they are exposed to sexual harassment. We can help them find any compensation they may be entitled to as well as how to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
Types of Sexual Harassment in Hospitality
There are two main types of sexual harassment that employees could be exposed to in the hospitality industry. These two types are:
Quid Pro Quo: This type of sexual harassment is when an employee is subjected to a proposition or exchange of favors by someone in a position of power. This type of exchange could include a manager offering a promotion in exchange for sexual favors. It can also operate in the opposite order, where a manager makes an advance and tells you that there could be consequences if you do not accept it. In this situation, you may feel pressured by the threat of retaliation for not engaging in the behavior.
Hostile Workplace Environment: This type of sexual harassment is when the place of employment develops a toxic culture or allows instances of sexual harassment to take place. This could be in the form of jokes, microaggressions, or other behavior that causes an employee to feel uncomfortable, objectified, or otherwise powerless to speak up. This type of harassment also includes any favoritism based on employee gender. To be considered hostile, the behavior must be severe or pervasive. This is qualified as behavior that any reasonable person in a similar situation would draw the same conclusion about. It must also be repeated or patterned behavior and not an isolated incident.
Regardless of the type of sexual harassment an employee may experience, the ramifications of such behavior extend beyond just the person who is the recipient. Witnesses to such behavior could be triggered by their own past experiences and could find themselves reliving them. In these situations, that witness may have a right to pursue legal options as well.
Common sexual harassment behaviors in the hospitality sector include:
Coworkers, managers, customers, or anyone else engage in inappropriate touching, such as groping, massaging, hugging, or other such behaviors.
There was an incident of molestation. This is particularly concerning in the hospitality industry, where there are often employees under the age of 18.
A coworker sent inappropriate photos or messages through any form of electronic communication.
A coworker pressured you for a sexual relationship, date, affair, or to otherwise engage with them romantically.
You were exposed to sexually explicit objects or materials by receiving them from a coworker or being exposed to them in any way.
You were a victim of a sexually related crime at your place of employment.
Regardless of whether you were the victim or a witness, sexual harassment is a serious matter, and legal action should be taken. California employment law secures the rights of workers for a safe and healthy work environment, and it empowers employees to take action when these rights are violated.
These types of behaviors can occur from many different types of individuals, including a supervisor, co-worker, or even a non-employee. In the hospitality field, non-employees need to be considered as they are there to visit and may engage in behaviors that are overindulgent or in a way that could be seen as inappropriate. If you experience sexual harassment from an individual that is not an employee, you should immediately inform your management or supervisor.
Requirements to File a Sexual Harassment Claim
Sexual harassment has a specific set of circumstances that should be met before filing a claim according to California law. While filing a claim can help you feel better about your situation, you may feel discouraged if you attempt to file a claim and discover that your claim is not accepted. There are four requirements that should first be met:
There Was a Duty of Care Owed: The person who committed the harassment must be a person who owes a duty of care to you in the workplace. An employer has a duty of care to provide a work environment that is supportive and safe through the policies they enact, while a coworker has a duty of care by not creating or contributing to a hostile work environment.
There Was a Failure in Care: There must be evidence to prove that there was a breach in the defendant’s duty of care. This includes harassment, assault, and other forms of discriminatory behavior.
There Must Be Cause for the Filing: There must be a connection between the failure in the duty of care and the damages being sought in the claim.
Specific Damages: The behavior you experienced must result in specific damages, including physical or emotional trauma, medical expenses, loss of wages, and other compensatory items directly related to the incident.
Filing a Sexual Harassment Claim
Filing a sexual harassment claim can create a lot of fear and anxiety, as these types of claims are often met with resistance or fear of retaliation. However, taking the necessary steps to make these claims is important for accountability and changing the culture within the organization you work for. In addition, it is important for those who experience such behaviors to remember that they may not be the only victim, but they may be the only one who chooses to speak up.
Find an Attorney
The first step in filing a claim is to speak with an attorney who has experience in these types of cases, like someone from the team at California Employment Counsel. An attorney can help guide you through the process and even negotiate on your behalf through any mediation or litigation that may arise. This can help empower you to speak up and report what occurred.
After securing representation, you will want to gather all possible evidence that you have. This could include:
Documentation of occasions where you raised prior concerns
Changes in performance reviews
Evidence can help show how your job was specifically impacted by the behaviors you experienced. Be sure to write down specific details of the incident or incidents. It can help to ask yourself these questions:
Who was involved?
What was said?
What action occurred?
On what dates did the harassment take place?
Who was present?
Many employers will set up policies that require this step to be taken. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your company’s policy.
File a Complaint With Your Company
Before filing a claim, you, or your attorney on your behalf, should formally file a complaint with management or human resources to document the behavior. This provides an opportunity for the employer to rectify the situation and provide support for you. However, if the employer fails to act, they expose themselves to greater liability and could further be held accountable in any legal matters. Noting the date, time, with whom you spoke, and how it was communicated should be done and kept secure, as that could become valuable evidence later. Many sexual harassment cases will begin with checking for this step.
While management is reviewing policies and procedures, collect your aforementioned evidence. The most difficult evidence will be witness statements, as coworkers may seek to avoid involvement due to their own fear of retaliation. However, gathering what you can, and supporting it with any available photos or videos, can help ensure that you have a strong case, should management fail to get involved. Your attorney can guide you through the evidentiary process to be sure that you are building a strong case.
File a Formal Complaint With a Government Agency
If management fails to correct the situation, and you and your attorney agree to move forward with litigation, you will then file a formal complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Your attorney can ensure that the complaint and filing are done correctly and with the proper agency.
If you experienced a sexual assault, and not harassment, it is important to forgo the above steps and immediately file a police report. Sexual harassment and assault are different offenses, and assault should be immediately pursued in a criminal case.
Damages in Hospitality Industry Sexual Harassment Claims
Claims for sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, hotel industry, or other hospitality sector could help recoup several financial impacts you may have experienced because of the behavior. Claims can be filed in one of two ways:
Individual: This occurs when you feel you have been sexually harassed and are seeking compensation on your own. This often happens in smaller industries or isolated incidents.
Class Action: In some larger hospitality companies, there may be a wider problem with sexual harassment that involves multiple individuals, who may wish to file a joint claim. This is known as a class action claim, where those named in the complaint will split the settlement obtained through litigation.
Filing a claim can seek compensation for specific damages. These include:
Any medical expenses required after an assault or for mental care
Lost income for any missed work related to the harassment, whether because of retaliation or the behavior preventing you from attending work
Reinstatement of your job if you were fired as a result of a complaint
Reimbursement for any bonuses, commissions, or benefits that you may have missed as a direct result of the harassment
Pain and suffering if you experienced any anxiety, fear, or other emotional turmoil because of the behaviors you experienced
Any punitive damages for the company’s negligence in responding to a complaint
Your attorney can help guide you through the filing to ensure that you seek all the damages you may be entitled to.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Statute of Limitations
In any sexual harassment case, the statute of limitations is one year from the date that the incident occurred. This includes any time that you may give your employer after filing a complaint. If you fail to file a complaint within the year, you will lose an opportunity to collect any damages owed to you. If you choose to file, it must be received by the DFEH within that year. If you choose to pursue legal action through the federal system, the statute of limitations is even less; you must file your claim within six months.
Deciding which avenue is right for your case should be discussed with your attorney. They can guide you through the process of recouping the appropriate damages you may be entitled to.
California Sexual Harassment Attorney
Experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly in the hospitality industry, can leave an employee feeling helpless, targeted, and in fear of their job. Some employees will remain silent about their experience and hope that it will pass. Seeking help, however, for sexual harassment is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Obtaining the services of a sexual harassment attorney can help build a team of support around you that holds those at fault accountable for their actions. Sexual harassment is unwanted behavior, and you should not have to suffer for the decisions of someone else.
If you or a coworker have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, contact the attorneys at California Employment Counsel and get the help you deserve. Our team can review the facts of your case and seek reimbursement for damages that you may be entitled to. We can challenge your employer to ensure their policies and procedures create a safe and welcoming environment.
Why Speak Up In California
You should never be afraid to assert your
rights as an employee