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Sexual harassment and the restaurant industry

If you work in the restaurant industry, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that incidents of sexual harassment are commonplace. Little seems to be changing despite all the focus in recent years on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Why is sexual harassment among restaurant employees so common? There are a number of reasons that may contribute to this:

  • There is a pro-customer mentality that tends to overlook bad behavior for the sake of business.
  • Many of the employees are low-paid workers who rely on tips, which encourages them to be compliant, despite abuses.
  • Many servers are also young, which makes them more likely to be unsure how to respond to incidents of harassment and less assertive.
  • In establishments that serve alcohol, some customers use that as an excuse to act in abusive ways.
  • Managers, chefs and owners have a tremendous amount of control over the day-to-day operations, which can be intimidating and cause employees to fear retaliation if they speak up.
  • There’s a gender imbalance in many restaurants, with males making up much of management and females making up much of the staff — which also creates a power imbalance divided by gender.

How bad is the problem? Around 80 percent of female restaurant workers say that they have been harassed by both customers and co-workers. Two-thirds of workers report being harassed by their managers.

Many restaurant servers and former servers say that the problem is so pervasive that they were essentially conditioned to accept the abuse as normal. Some say they were so numbed to the constant inappropriate behavior that they ceased to recognize unwanted advances, touching and other forms of sexual contact as actual harassment. Instead, they simply tolerated it as something to be expected.

Sexual harassment at work won’t stop until it becomes unacceptable for people to behave that way to others. That only starts when someone takes a stand against the inappropriate actions of others. If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, consider exploring your legal options.

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