Investigating Sexual Harassment Claims: A Guide for Hospitality Employers

By Marc Stephen Shuster Partner, Berger Singerman | March 01, 2015

Co-authored by Laurie Weinstein, a member of Berger Singerman’s Dispute Resolution Team

Approximately 90% of women in restaurant jobs who depend on tips have asserted that they have been sexually harassed at the workplace, according to findings published by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United and Forward Together in October 2014. Recent reports in the media about hotel housekeepers who may have been sexually assaulted and harassed by guests show that this problem likely exists in the hotel industry too. Although some of these claims may not prove to be true, this point is clear: the failure to properly address sexual harassment complaints may render an employer liable for significant damages to a prevailing employee, including the employee’s attorneys’ fees and costs. Furthermore, mismanaging sexual harassment claims can also result in negative publicity, loss of productivity and morale, and higher turnover rates.

Once an employee has complained of sexual harassment, an internal investigation is necessary to address and resolve the claim. This article describes best practices to take when conducting an internal investigation of a sexual harassment claim.

Who Should Investigate the Sexual Harassment Claim?

The individual who conducts the investigation must be impartial to the complaining employee, the alleged harasser, and any witnesses. Importantly, the investigator should not be subordinate to the alleged harasser. In a similar vein, the investigator should not have a social friendship with the alleged harasser.

Hiring an outside and independent investigator is not necessary but might be wise. If an employer hires an outside investigator, it may dissuade the complaining employee or the alleged harasser from later claiming that the investigation was biased or incomplete. The witnesses may be more forthcoming if an outsider investigates, as opposed to someone within the company. Also, if an outside attorney is hired and performs the investigation, an employer may be able to prevent certain documents or discussions from being later disclosed if the employee files a lawsuit.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.