Creating Safer Workplaces

By: Lonnie Burnett

Empowering Hospitality Businesses in Sexual Harassment Prevention

There are many ways in which hospitality employers can create safer workplaces. You may be familiar with some of the basic health and safety requirements in BC, including training and orienting workers, doing workplace inspections, providing first aid, and having a joint health and safety committee or worker safety representative. Another requirement of employers is to eliminate or reduce hazards in the workplace. Physical hazards such as slips, trips, and falls, carrying heavy loads, and handling broken glass may be routine and something that you have well under control. However, there are workplace risks that cannot be seen, making them harder to recognize and manage. One of these hazards is workplace sexual harassment.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is more broadly defined than you may expect. Typically, we think of sexual harassment as unwelcome comments or conduct of a sexual nature, but sexual harassment can also include gender-based comments or conduct. Additionally, to be considered workplace sexual harassment, the behaviour or comments must occur in the workplace or during work-related tasks. Some examples include a person in authority requesting sexual favours for employment benefits or preferred shifts, unwelcome sexual or gender-based remarks, jokes, innuendos, sexual gestures, or physical contact such as touching, pinching, or hugging. Employers requiring sexually suggestive, gendered uniforms is also considered sexual harassment. It’s worth noting that this behaviour can come from any individual in the workplace, including other employees, delivery personnel, contractors, and even guests or visitors.

Industry Statistics

According to a recent nationwide study, around 70% of employees in Canada have experienced violence or harassment at work, but research also tells us that many incidents go unreported. When questioned about why these incidents are not reported, reasons include fear of negative work-related consequences, not wanting to make a big deal of the situation, and not knowing if reporting would make a difference.

Invisible Injury

Sustaining a physical injury is the common threshold for reporting an incident. However, the most common injuries associated with harassment are psychological in nature. Employees working at bars, pubs, nightclubs, and restaurants are in a higher-risk environment for psychological injury due to the social atmosphere and lowered inhibitions that arise from alcohol consumption.

“70% of employees in Canada have experienced violence or harassment at work.”

It’s also quite common for workers to enjoy the social atmosphere after their shift by having a drink or two at the bar. This places an additional responsibility on employers in such establishments to mitigate this hazard and provide a safe workplace.

Why Prioritize Preventing Harassment

For bar, pub, nightclub, and restaurant employers, there are many reasons to prioritize proactive prevention and incident response to workplace sexual harassment. First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. As prescribed in the Workers Compensation Act, employers have an obligation to foster a safe and healthy work environment, including preventing bullying and harassment. Remember the old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking proactive steps to prevent harassment is a real and concrete way to improve your workplace health and safety culture, and in turn enhance the overall employee experience. This has a dual positive impact on brand reputation and recruitment and retention of skilled employees.


Though employers play a significant role in preventing workplace sexual harassment by setting behavioural standards and protecting employees when situations arise, managers, supervisors, workers, and even guests are responsible for preventing and mitigating potential occurrences. Employers are responsible for setting the tone and developing policies and procedures to prevent and address harassment. In contrast, managers and supervisors are responsible for executing and enforcing policies and procedures in the workplace. Workers are asked to refrain from conduct that could be considered harassment and to be informed about workplace policies and procedures. Additionally, employers are encouraged to communicate to guests the desired behaviour, mitigating the potential for both intended and unintended harassment from guests toward employees.

Where to Start?

Addressing workplace sexual harassment can feel like a daunting task, but taking the challenge one step at a time can make it more manageable. Here are some simple first steps you can take. First, identify where there is potential for a significant risk of sexual harassment to occur. Think inside the box (regular work tasks), as well as outside the box, such as work-related events and after-hours staff interactions. Special considerations should be made for vulnerable individuals, including new and young workers, temporary, seasonal, or foreign workers, and workers working alone or with minimal supervision.

“Special considerations should be made for vulnerable individuals.”

With those risks in mind, create your prevention policy statement, employee and guest codes of conduct, and associated procedures, including reporting and investigation procedures. Consider implementing an open-door policy and adopting a survivor-centered approach that fosters safety and trust between workers and their managers.

Once your documentation is established, communicate expectations to guests and train employees on both how to prevent workplace sexual harassment and what to do if an unsafe situation occurs. It’s important to capture the seriousness of the topic. However, keeping it light by focusing on the desired behaviour will positively impact the work environment. For example, promote respectful and inclusive language rather than highlighting what shouldn’t be said.

Sexual Harassment Training

Providing adequate training for employees is critical. Workers, supervisors, and managers should all fully understand their responsibilities in preventing and addressing workplace sexual harassment. go2HR has developed and launched Safer Spaces, a series of two training courses specifically addressing workplace sexual harassment—one course for employers, managers, and supervisors, and another course for workers. These were designed specifically for the tourism and hospitality industry and are free. Integrating these training courses into existing onboarding programs can set expectations and provide young leaders with needed support as they navigate new leadership roles. What’s more, prioritizing this training shows your commitment to preventing sexual harassment.

Understanding that this topic is complex, go2HR’s health and safety team can provide additional support along the journey toward safer and respectful workplaces. By taking these proactive steps, we can all start creating safer workplaces that prioritize the prevention of sexual harassment and promote employee wellbeing.

Lonnie Burnett is an Industry Health & Safety Specialist with go2HR, which is the Human Resources and Health and Safety Association for BC’s tourism and hospitality industry. Questions? Contact