July 2021 – Masks for Vaccinated Staff No Longer Required


THE CAL/OSHA Standards Board has approved changes to the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard that greatly loosen workplace restrictions that were implemented last year to protect California workers.

The biggest news in the changes is that workers who have been fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear face masks as protection or physically distance, regardless of the vaccination status of co-workers.

After the decision, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order enabling the revisions to take effect without the normal 10-day approval period by the state Office of Administrative Law. They came into effect when the office received the changes.

The main changes Here are the main changes affecting employers in California:

Physical distancing and barrier requirements – These are eliminated regardless of an employee’s vaccination status, except where an employer determines there is a hazard and for certain employees during major outbreaks.
Testing – Fully vaccinated employees do not need to be offered testing or be excluded from work after close contact with someone who has COVID-19, unless they have symptoms. Employees who are not fully vaccinated and exhibit COVID-19 symptoms must be offered testing by their employer.
Masks – Vaccinated workers are not required to wear face masks generally. For unvaccinated workers, masks will be required indoors or when in vehicles, with limited exceptions.

Employees are not required to wear face coverings when outdoors regardless of vaccination status, except for certain employees during outbreaks.

Document vaccination status
– Employers must document the vaccination status of fully vaccinated employees if they do not wear face coverings indoors.
No mask retaliation – Employees that choose to, are explicitly allowed to wear a face-covering without fear of retaliation from employers.
Respirator availability – Employees who are not fully vaccinated may request respirators for voluntary use from their employers at no cost and without fear of retaliation from their employers.
Businesses that need help in securing N95 respirators for unvaccinated employees can find distribution locations for state-provided N95 respirators here.
Review rules – Review the Interim Guidance for Ventilation, Filtration, and Air Quality in Indoor Environments.
Ventilation – Employers must evaluate ventilation systems to maximize outdoor air and increase filtration efficiency, and must evaluate the use of additional air cleaning systems.

What remains

Parts of the Emergency Standard still in effect include:
• Employers must maintain an effective written COVID-19 Prevention Program that includes:
» Identifying and evaluating your employees’ exposures to COVID-19 health hazards.
» Implementing effective policies and procedures to correct unsafe and unhealthy conditions.
» Allowing adequate time for handwashing and cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects.
• Employers must provide training to employees on how COVID-19 is spread, infection-prevention techniques, and information regarding COVID-19-related benefits that affected employees may be entitled to under state or federal laws.
• Employers must bar from coming to work employees who have COVID-19 symptoms and/or are not fully vaccinated and have had close contact from the workplace if that close contact is work-related.


Cal/OSHA Rulemaking – Permanent Wildfire Safety Rules on Tap – OCTOBER 2020


AS WILDFIRES continue raging throughout California, Cal/OSHA has issued a reminder to employers that they are required to protect their outdoor workers from smoke if the Air Quality Index exceeds 150. Cal/OSHA has extended an emergency regulation it put in place in August 2019 through January 2021 as it works on a permanent regulation on wildfire smoke protection for outdoor workers in the state.

For the safety of your workers and to comply with the regulation, it’s important that you follow the regs and know when you will need to take action to protect them from outdoor smoke.
The regulation applies when the AQI for airborne particulate matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) or smaller is 151 or greater in an area where employees are working outdoors. Here are the details:

Identification

Employers must monitor the AQI for PM2.5. You can monitor the index using the following websites:

  • U.S. EPA AirNow
  • U.S. Forest Service Wildland Air Quality Response Program
  • California Air Resources Board
  • Local air pollution control district websites or local air quality management district websites.

Training and instruction

Employers with outdoor workers need train their workers in:

  • The health effects of wildfire smoke.
  • Their right to obtain medical treatment without fear of reprisal.
  • How they can obtain the current AQI for PM2.5.
  • Actions they must take if the AQI exceeds 150 PM 2.5

Communication

Employers must implement a system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards to all affected employees, as well as a system for employees to inform the employer of smoke hazards.

The takeaway

If you have outside employees who may have to work in smoky conditions, you should stockpile a two-week supply of N-95 masks for all of them if you are unable to implement other controls to reduce their exposure.
Cal/OSHA is in the process of making the emergency rules permanent and has sent them out for public comment. We will continue monitoring the agency’s progress on the rules and update you when they have been completed.

 

 


Pandemic Transition – How to Reopen, Bring Staff Back to Work Safely – July 2020


IF YOUR business is reopening after a relaxation of shelter-in-place orders, you should proceed with caution and make sure you have safeguards in place to protect your workers, as well as customers if they are entering your premises.
Here are some recommendations from the Los Angeles Department of Public Health and other sources that can apply to any municipality anywhere in the country.

Measures to protect employees
• If someone can continue working from home, let them do so.
• Tell employees not to come to work if sick.
• If any employee tests positive for, or has symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19, you should:
– Ask that they isolate at home, and
– Ask all employees who may have come in contact with that colleague to immediately self-quarantine at home.
• Check employees for symptoms or a fever before they enter. This must include a check-in concerning cough, shortness of breath or fever, and any other symptoms the employee may be experiencing.
• These checks can be done remotely or in-person upon the employee’s arrival. A temperature check should be done at the worksite, if feasible.
• Offer at no cost to your employees cloth face coverings if they are going to have contact with the public during their shift. If they are disposable, masks should be thrown away at the end of every shift. If they are reusable, they should be washed after every shift in hot water.
• Instruct employees not to touch their masks.
• Disinfect break rooms, restrooms, and common areas frequently.
• Place hand sanitizer in strategic locations.
• Allow employees to take frequent breaks to wash their hands.

Signage
Place signs at each public entrance of your facility to inform all employees and customers that they should:
• Avoid entering if they have a cough or fever.
• Maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from one another.
• Wear a mask for their own protection, as well as for the safety of others.

Controlling crowds, lines
Limit the number of customers on the premises at any one time, to allow customers and employees to easily maintain at least 6-foot distance from one another at all practicable times. Post an employee at the door to ensure the maximum number of customers in the facility is not exceeded. If people are queueing up, mark the ground outside to ensure proper social distancing.

Spacing between employees
• Require employees to work at least 6 feet apart. You may need to reorganize workspaces to ensure proper spacing.
• In jobs where workers are on their feet, mark spots on the floor where they should stand to ensure social distancing.
• Space out tables, chairs, and microwaves in break rooms.
• Another option is to use partitions made of plexiglass so workers can communicate and make eye contact.
• In addition, you may want to abandon the popular open workspace concept and revert to using cubicles, which gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s as a way to increase productivity by putting barriers between office workers. Having that divider will make your staff feel safer and can offer some protection.
• Reconfigure furniture placement in offices, public seating areas, and other work areas to support physical distancing.

Cleaning and circulation
Take steps to minimize air from fans blowing from one worker directly at another. Also, consider opening windows for circulation.
Also important are:
• Disinfecting surfaces in workspaces, as well as doorknobs, buttons, and controls. Pay special attention to areas that are frequented and touched more often.
• Providing workers and customers with tissues and trash receptacles.
• Employees who are cleaning and disinfecting should wear disposable gloves.
• Cleaning surfaces using soap and water, then using a disinfectant.
• Sanitizing any other personal protective equipment such as hardhats after every shift.


Double Down on Safety This New Year – January 2020 RISK REPORT


As the new year gets underway, now would be a good time to double down on your workplace safety efforts to see if there are any areas that you may be overlooking.
While your safety regimen may be top-notch, there is always room for improvement and you can consider these options as recommended by EHS Today:

Use a 10-second rule

Workers should consider using the 10-second rule before resuming a task after a break or disruption. During this time before resumption, the worker can conduct a mental hazard check, which EHS Today refers to as STEP:
S – Stop before resuming a job or beginning a new task.
T – Think about the task you are about to do.
E – Ensure potential hazards have been identified and mitigated.
P – Perform the job.

Take advantage of OSHA training

The OSHA Outreach Training Program provides training for workers and employers on the recognition, avoidance, abatement and prevention of safety and health hazards in workplaces. Through this program, workers can attend 10-hour or 30-hour classes delivered by OSHA-authorized trainers. The 10-hour class is intended for entry-level workers, while the 30-hour class is more appropriate for workers with some safety responsibility. Information is on OSHA’s website. Communicate with non-English-speaking workers Non-English-speaking laborers have more workplace accidents than their peers. The language barrier may keep them from reporting workplace hazards and they may not understand safety instructions.

If you have non-English-speaking workers:
• Ensure that training is fully understood.
• Try to get any safety training materials also printed up in Spanish, and other languages prevalent in your workplace.
• If you have one, provide them a contact in your organization that speaks their language, so that they can get answers to any questions they may have or to report concerns.

Urge employees to speak up

Let your workers know that there will be no retribution for reporting perceived workplace hazards, no matter how minor. You can also implement the third suggestion above, and reward employees that point out safety issues.

Make your training engaging

The best safety training programs are those that employees remember. Some good ways to make sure the information is retained include using real-life examples, story-telling, skits and strong video presentations.

Do more than OSHA requires

OSHA’s regulations are meant to be comprehensive, but every workplace is different and for a truly effective safety program you should fine-tune your safety requirements specifically for your workplace. In other words, you can go a step beyond what OSHA requires.

Watch each other’s back

You should also instill a sense of responsibility among your staff to look out for each other. If a worker sees another performing a job in an unsafe manner, they should step in to offer assistance. This can be done without being intrusive or confrontational.
Some good approaches include: “Hey, would you like me to watch out for your safety?” and “As you know, you need to be wearing cut-resistant gloves to perform that task.”


Top New Laws and Regs Affecting Businesses – January 2020 RISK REPORT


The new decade is starting off with a tsunami of new laws and regulations that will affect California businesses. Companies operating in California will have to be prepared for significant changes or open themselves up to potential litigation, fines, and other risks.

Here’s what you need to know coming into the new year:

1. AB 5

The controversial AB 5 creates a more stringent test for determining who is an independent contractor or employee in
California.  Known as the “ABC test,” the standard requires companies to prove that people working for them as independent contractors are:

A) Free from the firm’s control when working;
B) Doing work that falls outside the company’s normal business; and
C) Operating an independent business or trade beyond the job for which they were hired.

Legal experts recommend that employers:

• Perform a worker classification audit, and review all contracts with personnel.
• Notify any state agencies about corrections and changes to a
worker’s status.
• Discuss with legal counsel whether they should now also include them as employees for the purposes of payroll taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, federal income tax withholding, and FICA payment and withholding.

2. Wildfire safety regulations

Cal/OSHA issued emergency regulations that require employers of outdoor workers to take protective measures, including providing respiratory equipment, when air quality is significantly affected by wildfires. Under the new regs, when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for particulate matter 2.5 is more than 150, employers with workers who are outdoors are required to comply with the new rules. These include providing workers with protection like respirators, changing work schedules or moving them to a safe location.

3. Arbitration agreements

Starting Jan. 1, the state will bar almost all employee arbitration agreements. AB 51 bars employers from requiring
applicants, employees and independent contractors to sign mandatory arbitration agreements and waive rights to filing
lawsuits if they lodge a complaint for discrimination, harassment, wage and hour issues. Businesses groups sued to overturn the law on the grounds that it is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.

4. Overtime rules

New federal overtime regulations are taking effect for non-exempt workers. Under the new rule, employers will be required to pay overtime to certain salaried workers who make less than $684 per week – or $35,568 per year – up from the current threshold of $455, or $23,660 in annual salary.

5. Consumer privacy

Starting Jan. 1, under the California Consumer Protection Act, businesses that keep personal data of residents are required to safeguard that information and inform website users how their personal data may be used. The law applies to firms with $25 million or more in annual revenues or those that sell personal information as part of their business.

6. Return of the individual mandate

A new law brings back the individual mandate requiring Californians at least to secure health insurance coverage or face tax penalties. This comes after the penalties for not abiding by the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate were abolished by Congress in late 2017. Starting in 2020, California residents are required to have health insurance or pay excess taxes. This will affect any of your staff who have opted out of your group health plan as it may mean they are going without coverage, unless they have opted to be covered by their spouse’s plan. If you have staff who didn’t enroll in your plan for 2020, they may have to wait until your group’s next open enrollment at the end of the year. That could force them to pay tax penalties.

7. New audit, X-Mod thresholds

The threshold for physical workers’ compensation audits for California policies incepting on or after Jan. 1 is $10,500 in annual premium, a drop from $13,000. This means that any employer with an annual workers’ comp premium of $10,500 or more will be subject to a physical audit at least once a year. On top of that, the threshold for experience rating (to have an X-Mod) has also fallen – to $9,700 in annual premium as of Jan. 1, from $10,000.

8. Harassment training partly pushed back

Employers with five or more workers were required to conduct sexual harassment prevention training for their staff by the end of 2019 under a California law passed in 2018. A new law extends the compliance deadline for some employers who had already conducted training prior to 2019. The original law, SB 1343, required all employers with five or more staff to conduct sexual harassment prevention training to their employees before Jan. 1, 2020 – and every two years after that. If you have never trained your staff, you should have done so in 2019.

But if you have, here are the new rules:
• If you trained your staff in 2019, you aren’t required to provide refresher training until two years from the time the employee was trained.
• If you trained your staff in 2018, you can maintain the two-year cycle and comply with the new Jan. 1, 2021 deadline. You did not have to repeat the training in 2019.

9. Hairstyle discrimination

A new law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees and job applicants based on their hairstyle if it is part of their racial makeup. The CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), defines race or ethnicity as “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles like braids, locks, and twists.” This new definition of race means that natural hair traits fall under the context of racial discrimination in housing, employment and school matters.

10. Reporting serious injuries

A new law broadens the scope of what will be classified as a serious illness or injury which regulations require employers to report to Cal/OSHA “immediately.” The new rules being implemented by AB 1805 are designed to bring California’s rules more in line with Federal OSHA’s regulations for reporting. It will mean that some injuries that were not reportable before will be, such as:
• Any inpatient hospitalization for treatment of a workplace injury or illness will need to be reported to Cal/OSHA.
• An inpatient hospitalization must be required for something “other than medical observation or diagnostic testing.”
• Employers will need to report any “amputation” to Cal/OSHA. This replaces the terminology “loss of member.” Even if the tip of a finger is cut off, it’s considered an amputation. As of yet, there is no effective date for this new law, as enabling regulations have to be written – a process that will start this year.


CAL/OSHA REPORTING – New Law Changes When Injuries Must Be Reported


Gov.  Gavin Newsom has signed a measure into law that will greatly expand when employers are required to report workplace injuries to Cal/OSHA. The new law, AB 1805, broadens the scope of what will be classified as a serious illness or injury which regulations require employers to report to Cal/OSHA “immediately.” As of yet there is no effective date for this new law, but observers say regulations will first have to be written, a process that would start next year.

The definition of “serious injury or illness” has for decades been an injury or illness that requires inpatient hospitalization for more than 24 hours for treatment, or if an employee suffers a “loss of member” or serious disfigurement. The definition has excluded hospitalizations for medical observation. Serious injuries caused by a commission of a penal code violation (a criminal assault and battery), or a  vehicle accident on a public road or highway have also been excluded.

Compliance

Rules for reporting serious injuries and illness or fatalities are as follows:
• The report must be made within eight hours of the employer knowing, or with “diligent inquiry” should have known, about the serious injury or illness (or fatality).
• The report must be made by phone to the nearest Cal/ OSHA district office (note that a companion bill, AB 1804, eliminated e-mail as a means of reporting because e-mail can allow for incomplete incident reporting).

Because of the “diligent inquiry” component, employers should monitor any injured worker’s condition once they learn of an injury, particularly if they need to seek out medical treatment. A member of the staff should be on hand to monitor the employee and report to supervisors immediately if that person will need to be hospitalized. Employers should make sure that supervisors are made aware of the new rules so that any time a worker is injured to the point that they need to be  hospitalized, they know to notify Cal/OSHA within eight hours.

Also, if you have an employee that suffers a medical episode at work – such as a seizure, heart attack or stroke – you are required to report the hospitalization to Cal/OSHA. It’s better to err on the side of caution if an employee is hospitalized for any reason. Not doing so can result in penalties for failure to report or failing to report in a timely manner. Accordingly, it is important to educate management representatives, particularly those charged with the responsibility to make reports to Cal/OSHA, about the nuances of Cal/OSHA’s reporting rules.

One final note: The results of a serious injury or illness or workplace fatality will usually trigger a site inspection by Cal/OSHA, so be prepared if one should occur.


Cal/OSHA – Rulemaking Protecting Outdoor Workers from Wildfire Smoke


CAL/OSHA is developing rules that would require employers of outdoor workers to provide respiratory equipment when air quality is affected by wildfires. Smoke from wildfires can travel hundreds of miles and while an area may not be in danger of the wildfire, the smoke can be thick and dangerous, reaching unhealthy levels. Many employers want to hand out respirators to outside workers, but regulations governing the use of ventilators can be burdensome.

The California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 5144 requires employers that distribute respirators to implement a written respiratory protection program, require seal-testing before every use and conduct medical evaluations prior to use.

What to expect:
The regs are still in draft form and are unlikely to be completed this summer for the upcoming fire season.
But here is what you can expect:
The draft of the regulations would require that employers take action when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for particulate matter 2.5 is more than 150, which is considered in the “unhealthy” range. The protections would also be triggered when a government agency issues a wildfire smoke advisory or when there is a “realistic possibility” that workers would be exposed to wildfire smoke.

All California employers with “a worker who is outdoors for more than an hour cumulative over the course of their shift” would be required to comply with these regulations:
• Checking AQI forecasts when employees may reasonably be expected to be exposed to an AQI of more than 150.
• Establishing a system of communication to inform employees about AQI levels and changes in conditions that can lead to bad air quality, and about protective measures.
• Training workers in the steps they would have to take if the AQI breaches 150.

The regulations are pending with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board, which is expected to vote on them in July.  For now, if you do have outside employees who are confronted with working in smoky conditions, you should start stockpiling a two-week supply of N95 masks for all of your workers.


Human Resources – Don’t Forget Anti-Harassment Training for Your Staff


If you have not yet started on your efforts to provide antisexual harassment training to your California employees, you need to get working on it now. Law passed last year puts the onus on most employers in the state to provide anti-sexual harassment training to their staff every two years.
Starting this year, employers with five or more workers must provide:
• At least two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisory employees, and
• At least one hour of sexual harassment prevention training to all non-supervisory staff.

To be compliant by Jan. 1, 2020, as per the law, these trainings need to take place in 2019. They must then be provided every two years thereafter. This new law builds on legislation that has been in place since 2005 requiring employers with 50 or more employees to provide two hours of training to managers and supervisors every two years.

Timing of training

All employees – Under the new law, ushered in by SB 1343, most California employees must undergo anti-harassment training this year and every two years thereafter.
Supervisory employees – Supervisors and managers who are already covered by the aforementioned training requirements must continue to receive at least two hours of anti-harassment training within six months of becoming a supervisor, and at least every two years thereafter.
New employees – New employees must receive at least one hour of anti-harassment training within six months of being hired, and at least every two years thereafter.
Seasonal and temporary workers – This includes any employee that is hired to work for less than six months. These workers are required to receive training within 30 calendar days after the date they were hired, or within 100 hours worked, whichever comes first. Temp workers provided by an outside employment agency must receive anti-harassment training by the temp agency.

Training guidelines

Guidelines for what training should cover for employees have yet to be released.
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing is required to make available to employers on its website interactive training courses that satisfy the two-hour supervisory and one-hour nonsupervisory employee training requirements. Those materials are not scheduled to be available until “late 2019,” according to the department’s website.
The agency has on its website some materials to help employers, including a sample training kit, which you can find here.

Trainers

>nder the regulations for supervisory training, the training must be conducted by either:
• An employment law attorney, or
• A human resources or harassment prevention consultant with a minimum of two years of practical experience in sexual harassment prevention training, or
• A professor or instructor in a law school, college or university, and who teaches about employment law.

What training must cover

The training requirements for one hour of training have yet to be released. But you should use as a guide the following, which are in the California Code of Regulations:
• Definition of unlawful sexual harassment under the law.
• The types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment.
• Remedies available for sexual harassment victims in civil actions; potential employer/individual exposure/liability.
• Strategies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
• Supervisors’ obligation to report sexual harassment,  discrimination, and retaliation of which they become aware.
• Examples that illustrate harassment and discrimination.
• Confidentiality of the complaint process.
• How to report harassment to management.
• The employer’s obligation to conduct an effective workplace investigation of a harassment complaint, and to take remedial action.
• Training on what to do if the supervisor is accused of harassment.
• The essential elements of an anti-harassment policy, and how to utilize it if a harassment complaint is filed.

Trainers

Under the regulations for supervisory training, the training must be conducted by either:
• An employment law attorney, or
• A human resources or harassment prevention consultant with a minimum of two years of practical experience in sexual harassment prevention training, or
• A professor or instructor in a law school, college or university, and who teaches about employment law.

What training must cover

The training requirements for one hour of training have yet to be released. But you should use as a guide the following, which are in the California Code of Regulations:
• Definition of unlawful sexual harassment under the law.
• The types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment.
• Remedies available for sexual harassment victims in civil actions; potential employer/individual exposure/liability.
• Strategies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
• Supervisors’ obligation to report sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation of which they become aware.
• Examples that illustrate harassment and discrimination.
• Confidentiality of the complaint process.
• How to report harassment to management.
• The employer’s obligation to conduct an effective workplace investigation of a harassment complaint, and to take remedial action.
• Training on what to do if the supervisor is accused of harassment.
• The essential elements of an anti-harassment policy, and how to utilize it if a harassment complaint is filed.


Prepare for Possible PG&E Power Shutdowns


Business Interruption Coverage Can Cover Lost Income

PG&E has warned California residents and businesses that it may shut down the power grid for as long as five days for large portions of the state when there are high-wind conditions during the dry fire season. That’s because PG&E’s infrastructure was found to be the cause of several recent wildfires.

PG&E sent letters to customers informing them that “if extreme fire danger conditions threaten a portion of the electric system serving your community, it will be necessary for us to turn off electricity in the interest of public safety.”  With the specter of multiple-day power outages, businesses need to be prepared for keeping their operations going and preventing losses that may not be covered by insurance.

Just think how difficult it would be if you lost access to your computers, which are the nervous system of any business today. If you have no power, your operations could be shuttered for all intents and purposes.
There a number of steps you can take to make sure your business is resilient and can keep functioning during power outages, especially if they last a few days:

Identify vital business functions

Identify business processes that will be affected by a power outage. These processes will differ from business to business, but once you put them all down on paper, it will be easier for  you to make a plan to keep them going.

Create a continuity plan

Once you’ve identified those processes, you should brainstorm on how you can keep them going without your regular power supply.

  • Create a plan outlining how employees should respond to the power outage.
  • Post emergency numbers on sight for employees to call, including your electricity supplier to get an estimate on when power may be restored.

Back-up power a must

Consider investing in a back-up generator that can keep the critical functions of your firm going during a power outage. Generators need to be used with adequate ventilation to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never plug generators directly into power outlets. Never use a generator under wet conditions, and let it cool off before refueling.

Cloud storage and MiFi

If you have not done so, you should secure a means of paperless document and file storage on the cloud. If there is a power outage and an accompanying surge, you could quickly lose your data. Plan ahead with a cloud server.

You should also prepare a system of personal wireless hotspots, or MiFi devices, so that even when the internet goes down, you can finish important tasks requiring web access, such as setting up an e-mail auto-response.

Consider business interruption coverage

The best way to minimize the financial blow is to have the
proper insurance in place. A multiple-day power outage could really crimp your income stream and, if you lose money due to your inability to operate, the typical business owner’s policy won’t cover lost revenue.

But, a business interruption policy would. These policies will reimburse you for lost revenues due to a number of events, including “service interruption” due to power outages and other utility services interruptions.

The important caveat is that the interruption was not caused by any of your own faulty equipment or wiring. But if the power company is shutting down power, any losses you incur should be a valid claim.


What to do When a Customer Harasses One of Your Staff – Growing Liability


Society has become increasingly aware of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Several high-profile  offenders have seen their careers harmed or ended.  Employers are beginning to realize the harm this behavior  among employees can cause. However, the problem might not
be the business’s workers; in many cases, it is the customers.

Harassment by customers may occur in any business, but it is especially prevalent in the hospitality sector. That’s especially
true if customers have been drinking and behave inappropriately toward waitresses, bartenders, casino dealers or housekeeping staff.

Sales representatives may be subjected to unwanted attention and language, particularly during client dinners where most of the diners are men. And nurses are regularly subjected to patients exposing themselves or touching them improperly.

Employers who do learn of these problems have at least a legal responsibility to address them. Some employers, such as restaurants, have a no-questions asked procedure whereby a server can report to a supervisor that a customer is making them feel uncomfortable and the supervisor will immediately assign someone else to that table.

This policy tells employees their complaints will be taken
seriously.

If an employee complains…

• Listen to them and take them seriously.
• Thank them for coming forward.
• Let them know that the issue will be addressed with the customer.
• Ask them to report any further incidents that may occur.
• Do nothing to imply that they will be retaliated against.

What to do next

• Investigate the incident, including discussions with any witnesses.
• If the customer is from another business, refer the matter to an appropriate person at that company. This should be someone with the authority to take any necessary action.
• If the customer is an individual, separate the employee and the customer.
• If the customer persists, issue a warning.
• As a last resort, ask the customer to leave the premises.

The legal implications

Employers cannot afford to ignore these problems. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations hold an employer liable for harassment by non-employees over whom it has control, such as customers on the premises, if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action. The EEOC levies penalties of up to six figures for sexual harassment. In addition, victimized employees may sue their employers for tolerating hostile work environments. Settling these lawsuits can be costly.

If the employers do not carry employment practices liability insurance, settlement costs and attorney and court fees will be paid for out of pocket. Lastly, the failure to protect employees from harassment can lower workplace morale. This will inevitably lead to increased staff turnover. The employer will lose valuable employees and be faced with the cost of hiring replacements.

Federal law gives employees the right to feel safe at work, free from mistreatment by co-workers, supervisors and on employees. It is also good business practice to provide a place
where people want to work. Employers must be vigilant about possible mistreatment of staff by customers and vendors. Tolerating this behavior may save a customer in the short run, but it will cost the business dearly in the longer term.

A final thought: Sexual harassment is not the sole preserve of men harassing women. It is also an issue of women harassing men, men harassing men, or one female harassing another.