Restaurant Masters on Handling Sexual Harassment Complaints and Disability Discrimination

Employee lawsuits can be costly for both sides of a case. Former litigator and current restaurant employment lawyer Lexington Wolff uses her practice to advise industry owners who wish to avoid such lawsuits in the first place.

For the two launch episodes of the new podcast Restaurant Masters, guest host Wolff discusses the right way to approach sexual harassment complaints and disability discrimination.

With the rise of the Me Too movement, sexual harassment has become a more public concern for restaurant owners and industry operators. If a complaint is not handled effectively, a restaurant’s reputation can be irretrievably damaged overnight.

As a litigator, Wolff watched employers spend an “unbelievable amount” of time, money, and resources to defend themselves in court. And the individual cases were, almost always, completely preventable.

“The way you address this issue has an enormous impact on your workplace culture,” says Wolff. “The legal standard for sexual harassment is that employers have to stop conduct that they either know or should have known was happening in the workplace.”

Restaurant owners need to have a plan and protocol in place for complaints—including alternate channels of reporting. And complaints need to be taken seriously and fully investigated.

“There’s no such thing as an allegation that’s too small or too insignificant,” adds Wolff. “You want to make sure you do absolutely everything you can to show your employees that you care.”

Listen to the podcast above to learn more about cultivating a healthy workplace culture and the importance of decisive action after conducting a sexual harassment investigation.

Many employers today still only think of disabilities in the context of their common physical manifestations—deafness, blindness, or the need for a wheelchair. But mental disabilities are also protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and restaurant owners need to be careful in ensuring that they are doing all that they are legally required to do for their employees and potential hires.

“There’s no definitive list of disabilities under the law,” says Wolff. “And mental conditions are equally protected.”

According to Wolff, 8.5 percent of charges in 2018 disability discrimination cases were related to anxiety disorder, and 7 percent were related to depression.

Wolff encourages her clients to remember to keep the conversation open and supportive when approached by an employee asking for a disability accommodation. “Handle it on a case by case basis,” notes Wolff, “and work on it together with [your employee] to determine a solution.”

Check out the podcast above to get a deep dive into the rules for discussing a disability with a potential hire, and to better understand the concept of undue hardship in regards to requested disability accommodations.

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Darisha Beresford

Production Manager / Sr. Producer

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How to Avoid Unconscious Discrimination When Hiring for Your Restaurant

  • Hiring is one aspect of your business where more information may not always be better.

  • Choose your words wisely when writing up job descriptions and qualifications to avoid Discrimination charges.

Lexington Wolff is a restaurant employment lawyer with a story. After representing a number of restaurants in employee lawsuits, she began to see a pattern. Many of the lawsuits could have been easily avoided had the restaurant just been better informed about their obligations.

But as Lexi says, once you’re in a penny, you’re in a pound. Basically, it won’t matter whether or not your practices are legal. If your employees feel slighted or misunderstand a policy, they may take you to court which is costly whether or not you are at fault.

On this episode of the Barron Report, Paul and Lexi break down the hiring process and everything you need to know about how to approach candidates.

For example, have you reviewed the wording on your job postings recently? Misused language can discriminate against certain races or handicaps. Social media background checks might get you in trouble. Even asking about drug use could get you in trouble if you violate HIPAA laws.

To learn how you should legally be running your restaurant hiring practices, listen in to this episode of The Barron Report. Tune into our last episode with Lexi for more about tip laws and pay practices. And remember, these podcasts do not constitute legal advice. For individualized advice, consult your lawyer.

Show Notes

  • 0:51 - Lexington Wolff, Restaurant Employment Lawyer

  • 2:41 - Your Greatest Risk in the Hiring Process

  • 5:03 - Job Descriptions: Choose Your Words Wisely

  • 6:27 - Qualifications VS Preferences

  • 11:51 - Job Applications Should Not Elicit Protected Information

  • 12:22 - Ban the Box

  • 17:58 - How to Legally Interview

  • 19:08 - Asking About Sexual Harassment History

  • 21:10 - DIY and Third-Party Background Checks

  • 25:36 - Drug Use and HIPAA Laws

DISCLAIMER: This podcast does not constitute legal advice. For individualized advice, seek a lawyer's services.

Restaurant Employee Tip Laws That Could Get You Sued

Restaurant Employee Tip Laws That Could Get You Sued
  • Restaurant employee tip laws and pay practices could get you sued

  • Your legal obligation as a restaurant employer to make a policy and protect against Sexual Harassment

Lexington Wolff is a restaurant employment lawyer with quite the story. After representing a number of restaurants in employee lawsuits, she began to see a pattern. Many of the lawsuits could have been easily avoided had the restaurant just been better informed about their obligations.

But as Lexi says, once you’re in a penny, you’re in a pound. Basically, it won’t matter whether or not your practices are legal. If your employees feel slighted or misunderstand a policy, they may take you to court which is costly whether or not you are at fault.

On this episode of the Barron Report, Paul asks Lexi your burning law questions around pay practices and sexual harassment. We start with the discussion of unpaid overtime.

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