Restaurants Face Unique HR Compliance Challenges

April 10, 2008

The EEOC announced a $505,000 sexual harassment settlement with a McDonald’s Franchise on behalf of a class of young female employees, including teens. The EEOC contended that a male supervisor engaged in serious harassment including physical contact, sexual comments and offers of favoritism. In addition to the monetary award, the franchisee was required to provide letters of apology to the victims, conduct training on sexual discrimination for its franchise locations, and post nondiscrimination notices in its workplaces.

The EEOC has a national initiative designed to educate young workers on their employment rights. There is a stand-alone website that has been featured on highlighting discrimination protections.

Restaurant operators face difficult HR compliance issues based on several factors including the following:

  • Workforce Demographics:  Diversity management is a challenge for the entire food service industry. EEOC workforce demographic information for the Accommodations & Food Service Industry reports a workplace composition for workers (operatives, laborers and service) that are 52% female and 47% minority. While managers for the same group are 68.8% male and 74% white. The prevalence of younger workers adds to the management challenge.
  • Wages and Employee Turnover:     Lower wage earners make for job hoppers. Pennsylvania reports food service worker wages ranging from $15.05/hr for serving workers to between $7.37 and $7.70/hr for fast food cooks and counter attendants.
  • Management Turnover:       The Restaurant Industry Blog by Kenneth Rexrode notes that turnover of managers and employees necessitate constant training and inhibit the development and continuity in a management staff.
  • Dispersed Operations:          Some restaurant operations, particularly franchised operations have multiple locations and depend upon managers traveling between locations. This can make for spotty supervision and training.

Solving compliance problems may be a matter of adopting effective policies on EEO compliance, training managers and educating employees. The most frequent misstep I see is concentrating too much control in a site manager so that employees feel they have no avenue to direct concerns to higher levels.