We often hear about corporate HR departments doing almost nothing to protect workers who report sexual harassment or misconduct — or worse, siding with the abuser rather than the victim. But the departments do offer formalized procedures for handling such claims and provide at least a starting point for workers to begin fighting back.
What if the company has no human resources staff to complain to? Where should an employee begin?
Nearly half of all workers in the U.S. are employed by small businesses, many of which do not have dedicated human resources staff. Bars and restaurants, made up heavily of small businesses, are particularly rife with sexual harassment. According to Harvard Business Review, the restaurant industry was actually the worst industry in the U.S. for harassment in 2018.
The incidence is unsurprising given workplace dynamics. According to Harvard Business Review, most restaurant jobs are low-paying, with women making up more than 70 percent of restaurant servers nationwide. Higher-paying jobs, such as manager roles, are typically held by men.
Harassing comments can be pervasive among staff, often normalized in those settings. And the behavior can get much worse, as one recent lawsuit shows. A woman who worked for a Louisiana restaurant group said that the president of the small company tried to coerce her into dating him, including by luring her to his home under false pretenses. He eventually had her fired after she refused his advances, according to the suit, filed this month.
The restaurant company executive and his associates were also accused of watching pornography openly on their work computers, walking around in boxers around female staff, and spying on female employees using security cameras. When confronted about his behavior by another company manager, the executive simply declared, “I can do whatever I want to,” the woman alleged in her complaint.
Where do employees go to report these matters if there is no specific HR department? Even without dedicated HR staff, it is important to remember that businesses must still fulfill human resources functions. Someone needs to handle payroll, benefits and develop workplace policies, regardless of whether that is a manager, owner, or another staff member.
Similarly, all employees, regardless of the size of the company they work for, are protected under federal law against discrimination based on sex, including protection from sexual harassment. Lacking a dedicated HR staff member does not exempt a company from those provisions.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers the following list of options for addressing workplace harassment:
- Asking the harasser to stop the behavior, if you feel comfortable doing so
- Check to see if the company has an anti-harassment policy, and follow the steps for filing a formal complaint
- Speak with either your supervisor or any supervisor in the organization about the conduct
- Filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC to complaint about the conduct
You can also, of course, speak to legal counsel. When engaging in any of these steps to report or stop harassment, you are protected legally from retaliation. You have the right to make a complaint, oppose harassment, and participate in any investigation or lawsuit over the behavior without fearing losing your job or other ill consequences. If your employer does retaliate against you, that is legally actionable.
To learn more, visit our sexual harassment faqs page. Ready to see if you have a claim? Contact us online, by email [hidden email] or by phone at 877.858.8018. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept strictly confidential.