Restaurant and bar owners need to train their employees on harassment, discrimination and retaliation. The younger generation that makes up much of the food and beverage industry workforce is so regularly exposed to outrageous conduct, it lacks the necessary skills to distinguish appropriate workplace conduct. Problems are certain to arise.
Most states do not require employee training, but considering the defensive benefits and the downside of failure to perform training, many employment lawyers now consider it to be a necessary correlary to written company policies. In order for a company’s policy to meaningfully benefit liability risk reduction, the policy must be effective and employees must be made aware of it. Punitive damages are likely to be awarded in cases where there is no education component.
An employer may avoid an award of punitive damages (the multimillion dollar type of award) even if sexual harassment is proven, and even if a compensatory damage award is made to the employee. If it can show that it engaged in “good faith efforts to implement an anti-discrimination policy.” Generally, employers qualify for the defense by adopting a comprehensive anti-harassment policy, and providing adequate harassment training for at least every management-level employee. Providing harassment training for all employees helps strengthen the defense. Some courts have not considered canned, generic training such as common videotaped training to qualify for the good-faith effort defense. Live interactive training is the best approach.
In sum, franchisees and employers in general need to provide appropriate, state-specific and interactive training to at least all of their management-level personnel. Additionally, a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy must be adopted, publicized and enforced for all employees at every level. Performing these two relatively simple, inexpensive steps is an extremely wise investment to avoid costly punitive damages awards in the future.