Harassment at the workplace is one of the major issues that the hospitality industry faces. According to Yeung (2004), the hospitality industry has such peculiar characteristics that make ethical issues particularly important. Drawing on various studies conducted by among others Vallen and Casado, Weaver et al, Enghagen and Hott, and on the basis of his own studies, Yeung (2004) particularly identifies issues such as sexual harassment, and harassment on the basis of race and ethnic affiliation as one of the most outstanding issues in the hospitality industry.
According to Perry (2008), employee harassment within the hospitality industry is rampant, and takes the form of gender, racial, or ethnic discrimination. While cases of harassment in other industries are declining, in the hospitality industry employee harassment cases are on the rise (Perry, 2008). This can be attributed to various reasons, chief of which is the fact that the hospitality industry is characterised by a rich ethnic diversity.
With many ethnic groups working together within the restaurant setting, for example, Perry (2008, p. 2) writes that “the friction that commonly occurs between the kitchen and waitstaff often manifests itself in insults and epithets which target race, ethnicity and gender. ” Additionally, managers in the hospitality industry have taken to socializing with or dating non-management employees, many of whom are in their teens or pre-teen years, which has the potential of triggering off a sexual harassment lawsuit (Perry, 2008).
Another equally important contributory factor to the high levels of employee harassment within the hospitality industry has to do with the dysfunctional rates of employee turnover within the hospitality industry. In the UK for example, Anonymous (2006) estimates that employee turnover is so high that by 2014 an extra 850,000 employees would be needed by the UK hospitality industry.
According to Perry (2008), the fact that many employees are leaving the industry, and many others joining the industry, makes it extremely difficult to tailor training programs such as gender awareness training, which has in turn led to the runaway rates of harassment cases. Yet another feature of the hospitality industry is that it is frequented by a lot of young employees, most of whom are in their teens, and for whom subjects as who is sleeping with who are popular topics with them, a factor that has in many ways helped spark off lawsuits even in cases where such claims have merely been rumors (Perry, 2008).
According to Rocsigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009), harassment at the workplace is triggered off by events that are both external and internal to organizations. Harassment can occur in three ways. It can be a top down process (where subordinate employees are harassed by their managers or supervisors), lateral (where subordinate employees are harassed by their own peers), or a bottoms up process. According to Eaton (2004), within the hospitality industry, non-employees (guests) may also direct harassment at employees.
Eaton (2004) states that while the law is very unequivocal when it comes to the need for establishments within the hospitality industry to both prevent and remedy sexual harassment in the workplace when carried out against employees by other employees or supervisors, when it comes to harassment against the employees by guests, it is more interested in what the hospitality operator did to remedy the complaint rather than what he did to prevent it.
The law requires that the operators take “reasonable cause” to remedy such situations, but what is reasonable is left to the discretion of the judge or jury. Ajagunna (2006, p. 259) also states that guests may be harassed and draws on a study he conducted on the impact of harassment of tourists in Jamaica by “beach boys, street vendors, art and craft vendors, taxi operators and beggars” Roscigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009) identify various manifestations of harassment at the workplace ranging from physical assault to the understated extreme of psychological attacks.
In between, we have forms such as constant criticism of the employees or unwarranted disparagement of their opinions. Verbal attacks, the use of demeaning language against an employee, disgraceful comments about the person, or isolation of the employee are other manifestations of harassment. Additionally, employees may be harassed by being made the subject of practical jokes, by being overworked, or being subjected to unreasonable pressure or being given unreasonable deadlines.
Other common ways through which employees are harassed include sabotaging their work, imposing responsibilities that are way beyond their ability to perform, or being excessively monitored by their managers or supervisors. Causes of harassment In their evaluation of harassment at the workplace, Roscigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009) explain that harassment occurs when offenders get the chance to hit out at their victims because capable guardians are not present.
In such an instance, junior employees are powerless against their supervisors or managers, who can then harass them at will. Towards this end, the writers identify various causes of harassment, the first one of which is race and ethnicity. While an employee’s race and ethnicity accentuates the disparities between him and his fellow employees in as far as status and power are concerned, it makes the employee an easy and soft target for harassment, especially in the event that the employee is a member of a minority group.
These employees tend to be more isolated from the dominant groups leading to a high degree of harassment against them (Roscigno, Lopez and Hodson, 2009). One’s gender also plays a big part in influencing harassment at the workplace, with female employees often bearing the brunt of unwelcome sexual advances which may be displayed through touching, the use of off-color jokes, the display of material with explicit sexual content, and so on (Roscigno, Lopez and Hodson, 2009).
In particular, Eaton identifies two kinds of sexual harassment recognized by law: the “quid pro quo” type where sexual favors are either explicitly or implicitly solicited in return for a job or a job benefit, and the use of unwelcome physical or verbal behavior against an employee by virtue of his or her gender, and which is detrimental to him or her. Harassment also results from occupational and status disparities.
Rocsigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009) report that lower cadres of employees are often measly wages and allowances, and given that they report to supervisors who wield a lot of influence and authority, they are easy targets of harassment. Conversely, the authors write that employees who possess high levels of education are not easily amenable to harassment for the reason that they tend to be more conversant with employee protection rights as well as with grievance procedures (Rosigno, Lopez and Hodson, 2009). Rocsigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009) also identify high levels of job insecurity as a contributor to harassment at the workplace.
They adduce documentary evidence to show that increasing job insecurity at the workplace has sparked off increases in workplace harassment. For example, an increasingly competitive environment has led to many organizations outsourcing some of their non-core functions, in the process laying off some of their workers and increasingly making use of contingent employees. According to Rocsigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009), many employers are exploiting the fear employees have of losing their jobs to make them agree to things they would ordinarily not assent to.
The writers indicate that the use of explicit or implicit sack threats to get workers doing what their employers or supervisors want is rife. Contingent workers also perform work that is of low value, and are more amenable to intimidation by their employers (Rosigno, Lopez and Hodson, 2009). Yet another cause of workplace harassment identified is that where employees harass their fellow employees because they are in competition and feel threatened that their fellow employees are better than them and are thus likely to make them look bad (Rosigno, Lopez and Hodson, 2009).
In addition, the organization culture espoused or enacted by the hospitality establishment also plays a big rile in either contributing to or lessening harassment at the workplace. For example, an organizational culture that seeks to exercise high control of employees (through the use of techniques such as standard operating procedures and excessive supervision) is likely to result in higher incidences of harassment at the workplace as opposed to those which seek to empower rather than control.
Another aspect of the organization that has been found to be critical in either ameliorating or worsening harassment is how well organized and articulate the procedures in the organization are, with chaotic procedures often contributing to higher levels of harassment (Rosigno, Lopez and Hodson, 2009). As mentioned earlier, Rocsigno, Lopez and Hodgson (2009) have attributed workplace harassment to powerlessness, where sufficiently motivated harassers take advantage of the absence of a capable guardian to harass their victims.
An example of a capable guardian is the trade or labor union, which has helped reduce workplace harassment through their grievance procedures and their capacity to offer arbitration in dismissal cases. Rocsigno, Lopez and Hodson (2009) however report that in recent times the influence and sway of the trade union movement has considerably weakened a factor that has also had some effect in increasing harassment cases.
Other capable guardians identified include the extent of accountability which employers or supervisors have towards their employees, and the strictures put in place by the organization to guarantee the rule of law within the organization (Rosigno, Lopez and Hodson, 2009). Impact of harassment Harassment at the workplace has very costly ramifications for establishments within the hospitality industry. According to Perry (2008), workplace harassment has been known to exact a huge financial toll on organizations.
Establishments within the hospitality industry have been known to fork out millions of dollars to settle legal bills for the organization and claimants, as well as damages arising from harassment at the workplace. Perry estimates that the average cost of settling a harassment claim exceeds $300,000. An example is given of the Tavern on the Green, a hospitality establishment in New York’s Central Park which settled a sexual and racial discrimination suit brought against it by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for S$2. 2 million (Perry, 2008).
Apart from the financial toll that employee harassment exacts from the organizations, it also affects employee productivity and morale. When employees feel harassed and harbor the perception that their employers are not interested in looking after their interests, their morale and job satisfaction suffers, leading to dwindling productivity. Harassment also leads to higher turnover rates, which also increases costs (such as recruitment and training costs) for hospitality establishments (Perry, 2008).
According to Perry (2008), harassment cases also lead to the disruption of business and operations of hospitality establishments, since it forces some key personnel to take time off to help prepare the defense of the establishment. Moreover, harassment cases generate a lot of adverse publicity for the establishments, which has the capacity to bring them down, given the fact that hospitality establishments such as restaurants depend very much on having a good reputation (Perry, 2008).
According to Vaez, Ekberg, and LaFlamme (2004), employees who fall victim to harassment normally predisposed to a higher risk of suffering from stress and psychological unease. They exhibit higher rates of absenteeism and typically have higher employee turnover rates than those employees who are not subjected to intimidation. High rates of absenteeism not only mean lost incomes for the employees (many of whom are paid on an hourly basis for the days they attend work), but also to lost productivity for the organizations.
Vaez, Eckberg and LaFlamme (2004) also write that employees subjected to harassment normally suffer from lower levels of self esteem and confidence, and are more predisposed to suffering from sleep disorders, digestive problems, musculoskeletal illnesses, and phobias. This inevitably leads to higher medical expenses for both the employees as well as the organization. Measures to reduce harassment There are several measures which establishments within the hospitality industry can take in order to minimize the effects of workplace harassment.
According to Perry (2008), hospitality establishments need to formulate written policies which clearly articulate that recruitment, hiring, firing and other HR practices will not be influenced by gender, age, religious, or racial considerations but will be purely based on merit. Having formulated such policies, the establishments need to ensure that the policy is enforced and to undertake regular audits to determine whether the policy is being followed or not. All employees should be made aware of the policy and must sign against it (Perry, 2008).
As a way of minimizing workplace harassment to the bare minimum, hospitality organizations will also need to set up third party channels such as employee hotlines, where cases of harassment can be reported. Additionally, the organizations must also ensure that formal complaint procedures are in place and that they are known by all employees (Perry, 2008). According to Perry (2008), hospitality organizations need to offer training to their employees to educate them of the need to refrain from practices that can constitute harassment.
Training the employees will not only help provide a valid defense but will also be useful in helping employees “to recognize their own unconscious motivations and how to avoid interacting in ways that can be offensive to other people” (Terry, 2008, p. 45). The training should cover all the harassment laws, and should be offered both to employees in management positions and subordinates. In the event that cases of harassment are reported, the organization’s response will also count for a lot.
In such instances, the organizations must move with speed and investigate such complaints objectively and fairly, preferably by a person who is not a member of the management team such as an external consultant or the human resource head. As Perry (2008, p. 45) writes, “Employers who have happy employees who respect each other and interact well are likely to retain them longer. Fair treatment goes a long way toward being the employer of choice.
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