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The Basics of Anti-Harassment for Small Breweries

Fun, casual workplaces in industries dominated by men tend to be the most prone to sexual harassment issues. Here are several ways to get ahead of potential problems and protect your team.

Kate Bernot Feb 17, 2021 - 8 min read

The Basics of Anti-Harassment for Small Breweries Primary Image

The allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination that surfaced recently at Boulevard Brewing were a shock to the industry, given the brewery’s prominence and the pervasive nature of the alleged misconduct. Inevitably, other breweries found themselves asking: Could this happen here? What can be done to prevent it?

Small and medium-sized breweries without dedicated human-resources departments may be scratching their heads. It’s common for small businesses not to have HR departments, says Christina Michael, a Philadelphia-based partner at Fisher Phillips, a firm that focuses on employment litigation and counseling. However, she says, that doesn’t excuse a company from developing anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation policies and systems.

“It’s particularly important in an environment [such as brewing] that gives the impression of being fun and casual. It is still a workplace,” Michael says. “The brewing industry combines manufacturing, hospitality, and alcohol, and unless you have these policies and rules up front, it can be a recipe for some challenging situations as an employer.”

Here, Michael shares a few best practices for small and medium-sized companies.

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Employ a diverse staff.

“A diverse and well-trained workforce is what’s going to stop these issues before they come up,” Michael says.

As Dr. Lilia Cortina, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, wrote in her 2015 testimony to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, some companies and organizations are more likely to struggle with harassment than others. Research indicates that companies typically have far greater problems with sexual harassment where there is a skewed gender ratio (more male than female); job duties and tasks are historically masculine in nature; and company tolerance of offensive behavior.

Thus, hiring employees of diverse races, genders, ages, and sexual orientations can mitigate these risks. Inclusive hiring practices show a company’s commitment to fostering an environment where harassment and discrimination aren’t tolerated.

Cortina writes: “Organizational ‘tolerance’ (sometimes known as organizational ‘climate’) is the single most powerful factor in determining whether sexual harassment will occur.”

Have a comprehensive written policy.

“First and foremost, you want to have a handbook that has an anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation policy and lays out a method for employees to issue complaints,” Michael says.

The best policies are clear and proactive, stating that diversity is valued and that failure to comply with that philosophy will not be tolerated. The language of these policies should be straightforward, not couched in legalese. (To gauge whether the policies are clear, ask managers to read through a draft of them.) The policy should also protect employees from discrimination or harassment by brewery vendors and customers on the brewery’s property, Michael says. This sets up the expectation of a harassment- and discrimination-free workplace from the start.

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Michael also notes that some states and localities require an explicit anti-sexual-harassment policy, while in other places, a general policy that covers harassment on the basis of race, gender, age, disability status, etcetera, will suffice. She suggests breweries consult an employment lawyer to make sure they’re in compliance with local laws.

Make sure to communicate those policies.

Having a dusty handbook no one reads isn’t enough. Ask employees to sign a document stating they understand a handbook’s policies, then follow up with training and periodic reminders of those policies.

“The next step after that, from an initial compliance perspective, would be making sure that your managers and employees are practically trained on the importance of these policies and how to handle issues as they arise,” Michael says. Remember that the compliance of vendors and customers should also be a priority for brewery managers and owners.

Implement a reporting structure.

Companies’ policies should specify exactly to whom employees should bring harassment and discrimination complaints. Managers are a natural option but shouldn’t be the only one, in case a manager is the reason for the complaint or doesn’t share good rapport with a particular employee.

“The answer should really be: You can report to almost anyone,” Michael says. Employees “need to feel comfortable reporting up the chain as they see fit.”

In small breweries, that may mean that complaints should be lodged directly with the owner. But again, there should ideally be more individuals to whom an employee can make complaints, and that structure should be spelled out in written form.

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Consider anonymous reporting services.

Anonymous reporting allows employees to report harassment or discrimination without conveying their name to management. Third-party services, such as AllVoices, logistically manage such programs.

One potential pitfall of some anonymous reporting structures, though, is that they could reduce a company’s ability to follow up with the individual making a report.

“You still want that to be set up in such a way that the person who does the reporting would know the complaint has been received and [that] it’s being looked into,” Michael says.

Prioritize confidentiality.

As much as possible, managers and owners should assure employees their complaints will be treated with sensitivity and confidentiality. In small or medium-sized breweries, the identity of a complainant may be impossible to keep entirely confidential. This is just another reason, Michael says, why a written anti-retaliation policy is critical. An employee needs to know that even if coworkers identify them as the one who lodged a complaint, the complainant’s job is protected.

Fear of retribution contributes to the low number of workplace sexual-harassment instances that are reported. According to Cordina’s testimony, only about a quarter of victims make a formal report, and only after exhausting all other response options. A 2013 study published in Law & Social Inquiry found that gender-harassing conduct was almost never reported, and unwanted physical contact was formally reported only 8 percent of the time. Cordina’s own research found that two-thirds of workers who spoke out against workplace harassment experienced either professional or social retaliation.

Enforce policies fairly and evenly.

As with most policies, what matters most when it comes to anti-harassment and anti-discrimination is walking the walk. Employees’ concerns shouldn’t be treated differently based on who they are or who the complaint targets. Extending those policies to cover vendors’ and customers’ behavior also builds confidence in the system.

Essentially, Michael says, companies want to show they have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination.

“Having those policies and having a diverse workforce, shows that you’re, in a lot of ways, leading by example,” Michael says. “You can say: We expect a diverse group of people to work here and feel safe and comfortable here.”

Or as Dr. Cortina puts it: “Studies have shown that strict management norms and a climate that does not tolerate offensive behavior can inhibit harassment, even by those with a propensity toward such conduct.”

Bottom line: Enforcing rules against harassment does, in fact, prevent it from occurring.

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