Visit any pizza restaurant and you’re likely to find workers of many races, colors and religions, and as we progress into the 21st century, this diversity is likely to become even more so. But while your workforce may contain employees from around the globe, that doesn’t necessarily mean harmony exists within the ranks of your staff. That said, what are you doing to assure that your employees are not subjected to any kind of racial harassment?
Legal professionals say that every restaurant needs to have a policy stating that racial harassment is not acceptable and will result in termination or other disciplinary measures. This written policy should be given to all new hires before they begin work.
If your workforce includes a lot of non-English speakers, it’s a good idea to have your policy translated and available in more than one language.
Without a written policy, “you are reckless beyond belief,” says Jon Hyman, a management-side employment lawyer at Kohrman Jackson and Krantz law firm in Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s a good idea — at least every other year, but probably more often for a pizzeria operator with high turnover — to talk to employees about harassment, says Hyman. Managers should also make sure they know the policy inside out, and should keep up with the laws because they change regularly, explains Ann Kiernan, a New Brunswick, New Jersey-based lawyer and a trainer with Fair Measures, a company that teaches managers and employees the skills they need to create respectful workplaces. Small businesses can keep updated on the laws through a business association or industry, or their local chamber of commerce.
If a supervisor hears of harassment, it’s important to take steps immediately. “It can often lead to a hostile work environment, so if the employee is able to continue the harassment, it will only strengthen the other employee’s claim and will lead to great damages the longer it continues,” says Tim Davis, an employment attorney with Grasch & Gudalis in Lexington, Kentucky.
How to handle harassment depends on your restaurant’s policy, points out Kiernan. It’s important to take into account the employee’s previous behavior. They might get a warning, or a written warning if it’s more serious, and by the next warning they’re terminated. Or it could warrant instant dismissal.
“You’ve got to consider terminating your employee, even if they are your best employee, because it will affect your business’s bottom line if they continue creating a hostile work environment, and it could lead to increased damages,” points out Davis.
It’s also important to remember that harassment can come in many forms. A great number of teenagers text message, so when a workforce skews young, it’s particularly important to have a handle on how those employees communicate. Then there are the popular social media Web sites. These technologies and the appropriate use of them should be incorporated into a pizza restaurant’s harassment policy, says Hyman. Technology, he explains, “makes it easier to get to someone and harass them — and it’s not just in the workplace, but someone could put something on your Facebook wall at 2 a.m., and that’s harassment.”
Toppers Pizza, a 26-unit pizza franchise headquartered in Whitewater, Wisconsin, is already on top of social media “because we’re aware that harassment can take place off site or out of hours using social media,” says Robin Gittrich, human resources assistant.
Toppers is meticulous with its harassment training. New employees are shown a 20-minute video devoted to the subject, and they also receive a hard copy of the company’s policies, which they have to sign.
The company also recently introduced an e-learning portal called Toppers U. for which it is developing content for a harassment prevention program, and hopes it will be available in the next year.
“The program would keep giving the employee feedback until it’s certain they understand it,” explains Gittrich. Should a harassment case arise at Toppers, employees are advised to report it immediately without fear of reprisal.
“We take every allegation seriously,” says Gittrich. “Toppers would look into it. And if we believe there’s been a violation of the policy, it would lead to disciplinary action up to termination.”
Metro Pizza, with five locations in Las Vegas, also has a written, zero tolerance policy that is given to all new employees. Co-owner John Arena says new hires sign off on the policy “so it’s clear they’ve seen everything.”
There’s no specific ongoing training at Metro, “but during staff meetings we are constantly reinforcing the points that are part of the orientation,” Arena explains. “We are always talking about being sensitive to the guests and to each other, and also making sure we’re providing opportunities to people.”
Your workplace should be an even playing field for all employees. Here are a few tips to ensure it is:
Make sure rules are consistently and evenly applied to all groups and people.
Seek input. If you are having a difficult time formulating a policy, ask the employees what they think should happen in a given circumstance. Typically, they will appreciate the amount of respect the employer is showing and will respond with workable solutions.
Have an employment attorney draft, or at a minimum review, all policies to ensure equal employment opportunity compliance.
Have more than one person that employees can make harassment complaints to in case a supervisor is the one doing the harassing.
Understanding your employees is tantamount. Talk to them and get to know their culture and community. Really listen and have an open mind.
Amanda Baltazar is a freelance writer in Anacortes, Washington.