HR Program Helps Business Owners Prevent Harassment in the Workplace
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NEW ORLEANS - Because the local restaurant scene has been riddled with shocking sexual harassment scandals, chef Susan Spicer spoke with her staff about various types of misconduct, whether it’s verbal abuse from customers, or threatening behavior from coworkers.
The James Beard award-winner said in an email that her employees at Rosedale and Mondo have “never experienced any sexual harassment situations,” but she wanted to reassure them that if necessary, they can safely report to a human resources (HR) entity.
“I'm always trying to be a better manager, and I think that really means being a better and non-judgmental listener,” said Spicer. “I also feel like the employees appreciate knowing we are interested in their safety, wellbeing and growth.”
Since Spicer doesn’t have an HR staff, she contacted Gotcha Covered – a local HR consulting firm that provides support and training to businesses of all sizes. They work with companies who have an in-house HR staff and companies who do not have one, by serving as their HR presence.
“Gotcha Covered helped us in the past with some HR material, such as employee handbooks, and by providing advice in a couple of specific situations,” she said. “I thought it would be good to be pro-active in helping my employees and managers get a better grip on what real life issues might arise and how to navigate them.”
Spicer participated in the agency’s Shield of Approval Award Program, which helps business owners create a safe, fair, and inclusive workplace, in compliance with employment laws. Completion of the program proves that the business owners clearly convey their expectations; encourage employees to talk openly and freely about behaviors that trouble them; and hold culprits accountable for their wrongdoings.
Program participants receive a framed certificate, which can be made visible to employees and clients, and serve as reminder that they’re entering a business committed to treating employees with respect and dignity.
“We believe that clients and customers will be more inclined to choose a business or a restaurant, in leu of another similar business, if the client or customer knows that business owner or chef is treating his or her employees with respect and dignity,” said Stefanie J. Allweiss, the cofounder of Gotcha Covered HR.
“With New Orleans being a community that thrives on hospitality, our reputation is very dependent on how well we do, and how well we treat the service industry workers,” she added. “The Shield of Approval is a tangible award that shows that a business not only cares about its employees, but also their customers.”
Allweiss and Patricia Pannell, the cofounder of Gotcha Covered HR, have worked with companies from a variety of industries, including restaurants, nonprofits, and museums.
Spicer, however, was the first graduate of the program.
“(Spicer) is the perfect example of somebody who not only has a successful business and name recognition, but of somebody who really cares about her employees,” said Allweiss. “The reputation of her restaurant is very much dependent on how those employees are treated.”
Spicer said she’s been surprised by the disturbing allegations that have been cast against some of her colleagues in the restaurant industry.
“It's pretty shocking to realize that this is still going on and companies (or) employers are denying or keeping quiet about it,” she said. “I want my employees to know that they can feel free to speak up and stand up against any kind of harassment as soon as it happens - the first time - with no repercussions.”
Suzanne Pfefferle Tafur is the associate news editor for Biz New Orleans