Stephen Ayers

Sexual harassment in the hospitality industry

Sexual harassment in the hospitality has, as in most other of not all industries, been around for years. I myself have been lucky to work in hotels that have taken this matter very seriously and I learned from the early years in my career to investigate every accusation thoroughly. I learned from my role models and mentors, but even that does not mean that it did not happen, unknown and surreptitiously, under my watch.

As an assistant food and beverage director, early on I was called into the GM’s office as part of an investigation into an accusation of sexual harassment by a banquet captain against the hotel banquet manager. I regarded him as a friend and, following the questions from the GM, I asked him if he had harassed the young lady in question.

“I would never harass a member of my staff,” he assured me. Armed with that response I returned to the GM and gave him my assurance that the banquet manager, who reported to me, had not harassed the captain. Indeed it was the opposite, I told him, since she had refused to carry out an order and had therefore made this accusation up to avoid the punishment of being dismissed and get back at the manager. She was let go and life in the hotel carried on as normal.

Many years later, I hired the manager in the same position in a much larger hotel as I was confident that he could fill the position with great success, which he did. On one occasion, sitting and having a drink with him following an event in the hotel and he suddenly turned to me and said, “Remember that banquet captain that we dismissed at the hotel way back when? You know, the one who accused me of sexual harassment?” “Of course I do.” I answered. He then horrified me with his next words. “I fired her because she would not sleep with me.”

I had no reply, I was left speechless. I was enraged by his nonchalant comment about that poor girl. Not only had he lied to me, but had taken advantage of our friendship to get away with something that would have led to his dismissal. Luckily, he left very soon after for a personal reason, but our relationship soured right then and unlike so many of the wonderful people I have worked with, I have not remained in touch with him.

I resolved to take every accusation very seriously from that time on, and resolved to talk to EVERY party in the equation and not trust blindly in people that I knew and thought were above board and completely honest.

The world has grown up since then, and thankfully the huge harassment bubble burst with the Bill O’Reilly scandal, followed by so many others. The Me Too movement has allowed so many courageous women to come forward with stories they would otherwise have hidden deep down within that had traumatised them.

Quite justly, the scandals have cost those celebrities their positions and power that they used to try and get what they wanted from aspiring underlings. All too often others knew of these ‘events’ but chose to remain silent, both men and women, mostly to try and protect their own careers. No more, and it is time.

Thankfully, I have not had to deal with many accusations of harassment during my career as a hotel general manager, but I have always done my best to investigate and judge the facts honestly.

As the general manager of a luxury spa resort I was confronted at least four times by accusations against male masseurs by their customers during treatments. Since accusations of this sort can ruin a career, I investigated fully each case. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’…right?

Surprisingly in at least two of the events it turned out that the woman was lying for a variety of reasons. One women was trying to get her husband’s attention, another was eager to have the spotlight shine on her and force attention to her. I was glad that I was able to determine the innocence of the two masseurs and thankful that I had not just fired them upon receiving the accusations. The other two I fired summarily for their deeds.

What I am trying to show here is that while all accusations must be taken at face value, there must be a full and thorough investigation take place before any decision is made that might have disastrous consequences on either person, the accuser and accused.

I honestly believe that women have no real reason to accuse someone of sexual harassment without reason, and it is of course high time that they feel the absolute freedom to come forward and do so knowing that there will be a fair and impartial investigation, and justice will be done.

Hotels, or at least the vast majority, have introduced strict guidelines for sexual harassment and I firmly believe that hoteliers have been at the forefront of the fight against sexual harassment for many, many years now.

The way employees are treated is a huge part of your reputation both with guests but also among your most significant asset, your staff.

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