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.
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