Responding to sexual harassment in tourism and hospitality workplaces

Safer Spaces raises awareness of sexual harassment in tourism and hospitality workplaces. 

Photo of a server carrying a tray with glasses on it.

In 2020, 25 percent of women and 17 percent of men reported that they’d experienced inappropriate sexualized behaviours in their workplace in the past year.

More than 25 percent of employees did not feel like their employer had given them information on identifying, reporting, or accessing resources related to sexual harassment according to Statistics Canada.

This included “inappropriate verbal or non-verbal communication, sexually explicit materials, and unwanted physical contact or suggested sexual relations,” reported The Daily (a Statistics Canada publication).

In response to this societal problem that affects all industries, go2HR has been working to find solutions for B.C.’s tourism and hospitality industry. As the health and safety and human resource association for this industry, go2HR launched its Safer Spaces initiative in March 2022. Its goal is to raise awareness and provide resources and training to help prevent sexual harassment across the industry.

“As the public became increasingly aware of #MeToo and other highly publicized cases of workplace harassment, some employers were keen to ensure that they had a workplace that was safe for all,” says go2HR’s Stephanie Mallalieu, Director, Industry Health & Safety.

Support for employers and supervisors

A major component of the Safer Spaces initiative is a suite of free online training courses, the first of which is designed for employers and supervisors. It is delivered online in the form of a story that follows an employer who receives a disclosure of sexual harassment from one of his workers.

The story explores how the employer handles the disclosure, who they call on for support and encourages others to consider how they might respond if faced with a similar situation.

Key topics include:

  1. Defining Sexual Harassment
  2. Identifying risk factors in the tourism and hospitality industry
  3. Understanding workplace roles and responsibilities
  4. Building the workplace culture
  5. Training and communication
  6. Receiving a disclosure of sexual harassment
  7. Responding to a disclosure of sexual harassment
  8. Creating safer spaces for everyone

“Employers and supervisors are instrumental in establishing the workplace culture and setting the tone for what is acceptable. Therefore, we knew this was the first course that we needed to create,” Stephanie says. “Employers should look at the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace in the same way they assess other risks to workers.”

“They should begin by considering the situations where it might occur, take steps to prevent it, notice some of the signs that it could be happening, and know how to receive and respond to a disclosure or complaint sensitively, without causing any further harm to the target.”

Stephanie points out that sexual harassment can be perpetrated by different people and in different contexts — by guests or patrons, by an outside supplier, by someone in a position of power or by a coworker, and can happen in person as well as via social media and technology, for example.

Support for workers who experience or witness harassment

A second online course, released in March 2023, is targeted to workers in tourism and hospitality. Stephanie notes that consent is a key theme within the worker course, as is the role of bystanders and witnesses to sexual harassment.

“Workers play a significant support role by either encouraging it, being passive, or helping to prevent it by calling out the inappropriate behaviour, if it’s safe to do so,” Stephanie says. “We want people who take the course to identify with the characters and stories and to feel a sense of empowerment knowing that they have a critical role to play when it comes to creating a respectful and more inclusive workplace. They need to be able to recognize inappropriate behaviour in themselves and in others, know how to disclose or report and also support others who might be experiencing harassment.”

Thank you to Stephanie for speaking with me — and kudos to go2HR for developing such an important resource.

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