A Woman Working in Food Service? She’s Probably Been Sexually Harassed

Living / Home & Work

A Woman Working in Food Service? She’s Probably Been Sexually Harassed

By: Nicole Capo

If you’re woman who's ever worked a job in the food service industry, according to an advocacy group survey, you’ve likely been harassed by customers, coworkers, or even managers, 

The report, titled “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry,” was compiled by researchers at the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a nonprofit that advocates for low-paid service industry workers. They interviewed 688 current and former restaurant employees in 39 states, and found that the majority of people interviewed had, at some point experienced one or several forms of harassment.

In this case, sexual harassment could take the form of anything from sexual jokes to explicit advances and groping. According to their findings, 66% of female and more than half of male restaurant employees had experienced sexual harassment by their managers, while 80% of women and 70% of men had experienced it from their coworkers, and 78% of women and 55% of men had experienced it from customers. Perhaps more disturbingly was the fact that 30% of women, 22% of men, and 40% of transgender workers stated that inappropriate touching was a “common occurrence.”

Though women reported the highest incidences of harassment — particularly from customers — the sheer number of incidences reported, and the fact that they’re seen as “commonplace,” is alarming. The advocacy group also found that employees paid the average $2.13 sub-minimum hourly wage typically offered by restaurants for those relying on tips as part of their earnings tended to experience a higher volume of harassment than those who were paid minimum wage by their employers. Those paid under the minimum wage were also three times more likely to be told by management to wear “sexier” clothes. Tipped female sub-minimum wage workers in the industry earn a median $9 an hour, including tips, and are likelier than men to fall under the poverty line, and that reliance on tips for their livelihood may make it harder for them to call out wrongdoers and stand up for themselves.

“While seven percent of American women work in the restaurant industry,” the report explains, “more than a third (an eye-opening 37%) of all sexual harassment claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) come from the restaurant industry. Even these high levels of complaints to the EEOC may underreport the industry’s rate of sexual harassment. Restaurant workers in focus groups gathered through this study noted that sexual harassment is 'kitchen talk,' a 'normalized' part of the work environment and that many restaurant workers are reluctant to publicly acknowledge their experiences with sexual harassment.”

These behaviors and realities will likely continue as long as restaurants are allowed to continue putting their profit-making before their employees’ well-being. And as much as the employees may not like it, for many of them, it’s not a choice whether to stay or leave, but instead whether to accept these truths as part of their lives or not. As one female bartender in a focus group for the report stated, “Unfortunately, it’s just become the societal norm, and we have all accepted it and we all hate it.”

[Pic via Flickr - skedonk]

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