Sexual harassment in hospitality: A look to the future

With it currently being International Women’s Month, the discussion around sexual harassment and equality in the workplace has been widespread and rightly so. Over the past 12 months there has been an alarming culture of harassment that has come to the fore for a plethora of industries, showing just how prevalent abuse and discrimination is in so many facets of modern day life.

What we saw in January at the President’s Club charity event was nothing short of reprehensible behaviour, but sadly, it wasn’t surprising to some. In fact, recent research by Unite has found that 89% of UK hospitality workers – both male and female - have experienced one or more incidents of sexual harassment at work, with 56.3% of those cases coming from the public. Unfortunately, the concept of sexual harassment taking place at work has become commonplace in the hospitality industry, with many dismissing it as part-in-parcel with the job. It’s a mentality that has to change.

So, what can the industry do to tackle such horrible behaviour and ensure workers in all fields of hospitality feel safe, respected and comfortable at work? Here are some essential tips to help tackle sexual harassment and discrimination in your workplace:


This is fundamental in any workplace. The Equality Act (2010) defines sexual harassment as someone that engages in the unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, which has the purpose or effect of either violating someone else’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual. The overall message of respect must be drilled into the workplace and supported on all levels. 

Unfortunately, many customers in the hospitality industry, such as those attending the President’s Club event, see hospitality venues as an arena in which they can act however they please. In an environment where alcohol, music and relaxed conversation is widely consumed, customers end up thinking that bars, clubs and events are places where poor behaviour is tolerated. It’s unfortunate and boundaries need to be set – starting with a foundation of respect.

Make it a certified and upheld rule within your establishment that those who do not abide by a basic form of respect for others will be removed from the establishment – plain and simple.

Employees, employers and customers in the hospitality have been unaware of the harassment they’re making and defended themselves by claiming it was “just a bit of banter”

Communicate & Speak Up.

This is one that is often underappreciated but it’s vital if we want to see change within this industry. Offering effective, two-way communication with staff is paramount to reducing sexual harassment in the workplace – from both customers and staff members. The report from Unite found that 84.7% of workers had witnessed sexual harassment of other people - an alarmingly high figure. By promoting an “open-door” policy, constant discussion and holding regular team meetings with staff, as well as promoting safe confidentiality in reaching out, fewer workers will hide their experiences in shame or fear of the consequences. As a result, more cases will be reported and staff members will feel more safe and comfortable in serving customers and working with their colleagues. Developing strong communication with and between staff can dramatically improve a company’s culture and reduce the number of harassment cases in the future, which will in turn gravitate towards customers and instill a set standard of conduct within the venue.

Support Your Staff and Initiatives for Change.

Providing staff with the right support, whether emotional, legal or managerial is incredibly important towards tackling harassment in the workplace. Without an effective system to help support workers, harassment will either be ignored, accepted or not fully dealt with appropriately – leading to further acceptance and an understanding that “this is just part of the business”.

According to the report from Unite, 60% of those harassed were unsure or lacked faith in their management to deal with a complaint of sexual harassment - this is an alarming statistic that needs to be resolved through proper training, procedure and emotional support. However, support must be provided to cases on both an internal (staff) and external (customer) level. The President’s Club event is a clear example where the customer’s behaviour was simply ignored by management, which lead workers to feel more vulnerable to the event’s attendees because their behaviour was simply accepted. Without the right support across all levels of hospitality, these sorts of events will only continue.

Organisations such as the ALMR are just one of the many out there providing managers in the hospitality industry with the support to combat workplace harassment – both internal and external. In addition to this, supporting industry change outside of work and becoming a part of industry discussion through organisations such as Eventbrite will help drive change.  Talks surrounding equality, harassment and bullying at hospitality events will also help bring more attention to the issue and ensure cases like the President’s Club event are avoided.


Providing the right education for staff is one of the most important factors when combating workplace harassment. According to Unite, 77% did not know if their workplace had an anti-sexual harassment policy in place. At such an alarmingly high rate, employees are more susceptible to brushing off harassment and without the right information and education, they’re more prone to feeling scared, embarrassed or idiotic in reaching out.

On top of this, we’re still seeing cases where employees, employers and customers in the hospitality have been unaware of the harassment they’re making and defended themselves by claiming it was “just a bit of banter”. Deciphering between what’s offensive and what’s not is a prime example of how education can help reduce workplace harassment.

Holding regular workshops and team meetings will keep employees up-to-date on standards of conduct (both from customers and colleagues), the policies/regulations of the company, as well as what their rights are in dealing with workplace harassment. Whether it’s in-house or through external agencies such as Hospitality Action, or iHasco, employees need to know their rights and understand just what’s acceptable.

If we’re to see any change in the hospitality industry, we must deliver enforceable standards for respect, encourage communication, provide meaningful support and drive practical training and education throughout the business and its culture. On top of government regulation, it is up to the individual company to take responsibility and ensure its practices are of the very best standard, providing employees with a safe, welcoming workplace void of clichés like “it’s just banter” – without taking responsibility, we won’t see change