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Sexual harassment in the restaurant industry

On Behalf of | Dec 15, 2020 | Sexual Harassment

The restaurant industry has a reputation for sexual harassment. Unfortunately, many cases go unreported because victims do not understand they have legal recourse. 

Review the actions that constitute sexual harassment at work and steps to take if harassment occurs. 

Get the facts

According to a 2018 report by the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United: 

  • 14% of sexual harassment claims come from women who work in restaurants, more than in any other industry. 
  • Most men and women in this situation do not recognize their experiences as harassment until years later. 
  • Many individuals in this situation felt their personal and professional lives were negatively impacted by past restaurant industry harassment. 

Understanding harassing behaviors

In a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review in 2017, about half of workplace sexual harassment incidents in restaurants involved a coworker. Customers perpetrated about 38% of incidents and restaurant managers instigated the remaining harassment incidents. The most common actions that fit the legal definitions of sexual harassment included: 

  • Telling stories involving explicit sexual content 
  • Making sexist, offensive or crude sexual comments 
  • Attempting to have unwanted conversations about sex 

Many restaurant workers accept actions like these as part of the job. They may avoid rocking the boat to protect their livelihood, especially when sexual harassment involves a customer and tips make up a significant percentage of the server’s salary. Often, these workers also reported fear of retaliation. 

Workers experiencing this type of harassment should carefully document each incident and make an official report to the manager. They can also file a report with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which may investigate the case. 

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