A 2014 survey and report by Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United) and Forward Together found that 66 percent of female restaurant employees and over half of male restaurant employees experienced sexual harassment at some point from a superior in the workplace. The survey examined 688 current and former restaurant employees in 39 states, and it found that sexual harassment is shockingly common in the industry.
In addition to harassment from superiors, 80 percent of female restaurant workers and 70 percent of males reported sexual harassment in the workplace from co-workers. Even more surprising was the finding that 80 percent of women and 55 percent of men reported even being harassed by restaurant customers.
What is it about the restaurant industry that makes harassment so prevalent? Experts aren't sure, but they speculate it has something to do with the tipping system that servers rely on to make a living wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, restaurant workers make up seven of the ten lowest-paying occupations in the country. Although women make up 52 percent of all restaurant employees, they also comprise two-thirds of all tipped restaurant workers. It is perhaps for this reason that female restaurant employees experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of men in the industry.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Its prevalence in the industry shows that restaurant workers have been silent for far too long. Knowing the state of the industry and your legal rights is the first step to taking legal action.
What Should Be Done about Harassment in the Workplace General?
One relatively radical solution is to end or curb the practice of tipping. The British newspaper, The Guardian, recently ran a provocative piece describing that strategy and its rationale:
“[According to] ROC co-founder and co-director Saru Jayaraman…“When you live off the tips… you have to tolerate whatever the customer might do to you, however they might touch you or treat you or talk to you, because the customer is always right. The customer pays your bills, not your employer…
Jayaraman laid out a case for how better wages could help reduce sexual harassment and assaults against women working some of the lowest-paid jobs in the country… In states where tipped minimum wage remains below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and is anywhere from $2 to $5, women interviewed by ROC United were twice as likely to say they had been sexual harassed at work as women in states such as California, where the tipped minimum wage has been eliminated.”
What to Do If You've Been Victimized by Harassment at Your Job
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