On March 6, 2019, the 20-year business partnership between celebrity chef Mario Batali and the Bastianich family of restaurateurs, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, was formally dissolved following allegations by several women more than a year ago that he sexually assaulted and harassed them at his restaurants years earlier. Tanya Bastianich Manueli and her brother Joe Bastianich have bought all of Mr. Batali’s shares in the restaurants. As a result, Mr. Batali has been fully divested and will no longer profit from his former restaurant group, and his name already has been removed from the group’s website. A new company (not yet named) has been formed to replace the now defunct Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. Ms. Bastianich Manueli will run day-to-day operations at the new company.

Batali’s exit from the restaurant group more than a year after the sexual assault and harassment allegations highlights that allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace can have a long-lasting, deleterious effect on business and, undoubtedly, on morale. The Bastianich family’s move to separate itself and its restaurants from Mr. Batali and the sexual misconduct of which he was accused also signals to employers in the hospitality industry that they are not yet out of the spotlight when it comes to sexual harassment awareness and prevention. As noted in our February 25 post, attempts to target and reform working conditions in the hospitality industry continue to develop and two states – New Jersey and Illinois – recently proposed legislation that would require restaurants to adopt a sexual harassment training policy and provide anti-sexual harassment training to employees. Several states, including New York and California, already require all private employers (of a particular size) to provide sexual harassment training to their employees.

Given the attention that Mr. Batali’s divestment from his restaurant group has drawn and the ongoing efforts to address sexual harassment in the workplace and in the hospitality industry, in particular, restaurant-employers should consider implementing a sexual harassment policy and training program now. To that end, Epstein Becker Green’s Halting Harassment – an interactive, computer-based training platform – offers an easy solution.

In the New Year, two states – New Jersey and Illinois – have proposed legislation requiring restaurants to adopt a sexual harassment training policy and provide anti-sexual harassment training to employees.  While it remains to be seen whether these bills will become law, attempts to target and reform working conditions in the hospitality industry are nonetheless noteworthy, particularly given that unlike New York and California, neither New Jersey nor Illinois have enacted broad legislation requiring private sector employers, regardless of occupation, to provide sexual harassment training to staff.

New Jersey Bill (A4831)

New Jersey Bill A4831 requires restaurants that employ 15 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training to new employees within 90 days of employment and every five years thereafter.  This training requirement would go into effect within 90 days of the law’s effective date.

As to the content of the training, the bill specifies that supervisors and supervisees receive tailored content relevant to their positions/roles that include topics “specific to the restaurant industry” in an “interactive” format, including practical examples and instruction on filing a sexual harassment complaint.  Implicitly recognizing the diverse nature of the hospitality workforce, the bill requires that such training must be offered in English and Spanish.

The bill would also require restaurants to adopt and distribute sexual harassment policies to employees (either as part of an employee handbook or as a standalone policy), though it does not prescribe the contents of such policies.

While the bill cautions that compliance with the act would not “insulate the employer from liability for sexual harassment of any current or former employee,” strict compliance is advisable as the bill creates fines for non-compliance – i.e., up to $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for each subsequent violation.

Illinois Bill 3351

Illinois Bill 3351, the proposed Restaurant Anti-Harassment Act, is broader than the proposed New Jersey legislation in that it applies to all restaurants regardless of the number of employees on staff.  Like its New Jersey analogue, this bill requires restaurants to adopt a sexual harassment policy and provide training to all employees.

The sexual harassment policy must contain the following elements:

(1) a prohibition on sexual harassment;

(2) the definition of sexual harassment under Illinois and federal law;

(3) examples of prohibited conduct that would constitute unlawful sexual harassment;

(4) the internal complaint process of the employer available to the employee;

(5) the legal remedies and complaint process through the Illinois Department of Human Rights;

(6) a prohibition on retaliation for reporting sexual harassment allegations; and

(7) a requirement that all employees participate in sexual harassment training.

Like New Jersey’s bill, the Illinois bill requires separate training for employees and for supervisors/managers, and delineates the topics to be covered in each training.  Specifically, the employee training must include: (i) the definition of sexual harassment and its various forms; (ii) an explanation of the harmful impact sexual harassment can have on victims, businesses, and those who harass; (iii) how to recognize conduct that is appropriate, and that is not appropriate, for work; (iv) when and how to report sexual harassment.   The supervisor training must include the aforementioned topics in addition to: (i) an explanation of employer and manager liability for reporting and addressing sexual harassment, (ii) instruction on how to create a harassment-free culture in the workplace, and an (iii) explanation of how to investigate sexual harassment claims in the workplace.  In addition to these requirements, the training programs must be offered in English and Spanish, be specific to the restaurant or hospitality industry and include restaurant or hospitality related activities, images, or videos, and be “created and guided by an instructional design model and processes that follow generally accepted practices of the training and education industry.”

If enacted, employees would need to receive training within 90 days after the effective date of the act or within 30 days of employment and every 2 years thereafter.

Like New Jersey, the Illinois bill contemplates a $500 fine for the first violation and a $1,000 fine for each subsequent violation.

Recommendation

Restaurants should carefully track the progress of these bills and be on the lookout for similar legislative efforts in other states.  Given that a number of states, including New York and California, already require all private employers (of a particular size) to provide sexual harassment training, restaurants operating in Illinois and New Jersey may want to move towards implementing a sexual harassment policy and training program sooner than later.  In that regard, Epstein Becker Green’s interactive, computer-based training, Halting Harassment, offers an easy solution.

Featured on Employment Law This Week:  NJ Senate Advances Ban on Sex Harassment Confidentiality Agreements.

The New Jersey Senate wants no more secrecy around harassment claims. On a 34-to-1 vote, the chamber approved legislation banning confidentiality agreements involving sexual harassment claims. The bill is still pending in the House, where a vote is expected in the next few weeks. The legislation would also allow victims to keep their identities confidential and would establish jurisdiction in Superior Court, arguably bypassing arbitration agreements.

Watch the segment below.

Our colleagues , at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “New Jersey’s Appellate Division Finds Part C of the “ABC” Independent Contractor Test Does Not Require an Independent Business

Following is an excerpt:

In a potentially significant decision following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s, LLC, 220 N.J. 289 (2015), a New Jersey appellate panel held, in Garden State Fireworks, Inc. v. New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“Sleepy’s”), Docket No. A-1581-15T2, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2468 (App. Div. Sept. 29, 2017), that part C of the “ABC” test does not require an individual to operate an independent business engaged in the same services as that provided to the putative employer to be considered an independent contractor. Rather, the key inquiry for part C of the “ABC” test is whether the worker will “join the ranks of the unemployed” when the business relationship ends. …

Read the full post here.

Our colleagues Patrick G. Brady and Julie Saker Schlegel, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Beyond Joint Employment: Do Companies Aid and Abet Discrimination by Conducting Background Checks on Independent Contractors?

Following is an excerpt:

Ever since the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued its August 2015 decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., holding two entities may be joint employers if one exercises either direct or indirect control over the terms and conditions of the other’s employees or reserves the right to do so, the concept of joint employment has generated increased interest from plaintiffs’ attorneys, and increased concern from employers. Questions raised by the New York Court of Appeals in a recent oral argument, however, indicate that employers who engage another company’s workers on an independent contractor basis would be wise to guard against another potential form of liability, for aiding and abetting acts that violate various anti-discrimination statutes, including both the New York State (“NYSHRL”) and New York City Human Rights Laws (“NYCHRL”) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).

Read the full post here.

by Maxine H. Neuhauser and Amy E. Hatcher

On January 7, 2013, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (the “Department”) published in the New Jersey Register proposed new rules and notification language to implement a recently enacted law intended to fight gender inequity and bias in the workplace. The notice of proposal is available for downloading here.

The law, which became effective on November 19, 2012, requires every employer in New Jersey with 50 or more employees to post a notice advising employees of their right to be free from gender inequity or bias in pay, compensation, benefits, or other terms or conditions of employment under particular state and federal laws.

New Jersey employers are also required to distribute a copy of the notice:

·                     In English and Spanish and any other language that the employer reasonably believes is the first language of a significant number of the employer’s workforce, provided a notice has been issued in that language by the Department;

·                     To all employees no later than 30 days after the notice is issued by the Department;

·                     At the time of an employee’s hiring;

·                     To all employees annually, on or before December 31 of each year (and the employer must obtain a written acknowledgement of receipt); and

·                     At any time upon the first request of an employee.

The notice may be transmitted electronically to employees via e-mail, or via an internet or intranet site, so long as it is accessible and the employer provides notice to employees that the notice has been posted electronically.

Importantly, the notification requirements of the law are not triggered until the New Jersey Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development issues the form of notification by regulation, which will likely take at least a few months. Employers will have 30 days from the date of the notice of adoption in the New Jersey Register, containing the final form of the notification, to comply with the notification and posting requirements.

A public hearing on the proposed amendments and new rules is scheduled to take place on February 13, 2013, and the due date for public comments is March 23, 2013. The Department’s forthcoming January 22 notice, which provides notice of these dates (and also corrects an error in the January 7 proposal), is available for downloading here.

For further information on other New Jersey employer posting requirements, see EBG’s Act Now Advisory entitled “Employer Posting Requirements Under New Jersey Law.”

by Michael D. Thompson

A posting and distribution requirement added to New Jersey’s prohibition on discrimination in pay went into effect on November 19, 2012.  Employers will not, however, be obligated to comply with the requirement until the New Jersey Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development issues the required notification form.

The notification form will explain the prohibition against gender discrimination in pay, compensation, benefits or other terms and conditions of employment (as set forth in N.J.S.A. § 34:11-56.2). 

Once the form is prepared, every New Jersey employer with 50 or more employees must post it in a conspicuous place accessible to all employees in the workplace. 

Employers will also be required to provide every employee with a written copy of the notification. The initial distribution must be made not later than 30 days after the notice form is issued by the Commissioner.  In addition, the noticed must be given to every new employee at the time of hiring, and must be distributed annually on or before December 31 of each year.