Are restaurant workers susceptible to sexual harassment on the job?

Restaurant workers are often subjected to sexual harassment. This can include unwanted sexual language, suggestions or contact by customers or co-workers.

San Francisco, known for its West Coast seafood cuisine, attracts millions of tourists from around the world every year. Countless dining establishments make their home in the city, from outdoor clam chowder eateries along Fisherman's Wharf to upscale restaurants. The Bay Area's restaurants are more than landmarks for visitors, however. They provide employment for many food servers, managers and support staff. It is important for all employees to understand their rights regarding harassment and discrimination, and this includes restaurant employees. Studies have shown that those who work in the food service industry are particularly prone to being sexually harassed.

What is sexual harassment?

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing defines sexual harassment as physical contact, language or any other type of behavior of a sexual nature that is unwelcome by the person receiving or witnessing it. In a harassment situation, the behavior would be ongoing, with superiors either participating in or ignoring the situation. A hostile work environment caused by sexual harassment might include employees feeling like they will be punished or fired for turning down unwelcome sexual advances or reporting the behavior to authorities.

How are those in the restaurant industry affected?

According to USA Today, employees in the restaurant industry report sexual harassment more than other types of harassment or discrimination. A study that was conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Center revealed that one-third of restaurant workers were regularly harassed by customers, and two-thirds had been sexually harassed by managers at least once a month. Up to 90 percent of female servers or waitresses said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, and 50 percent of males said that a superior in the restaurant had sexually harassed them.

In addition to unwanted advances, sexual harassment may be subtle and confusing to identify. For example, servers might be required to wear revealing clothing to work. This might not be considered harassment, especially for a restaurant that is known for scantily-clad servers. However, servers who ask to be allowed to cover up might be told by their managers that wearing less will bring in more money. They might then be informed they must endure the suggestive language and physical contact by customers, or they will lose their jobs. Many employees would find this treatment degrading and contributing to an unhealthy and unsafe work environment.

California employees should be able to work in an environment free of harassment. An experienced employee rights lawyer should be contacted if attempts to stop sexual harassment and discrimination have led nowhere.