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Restaurant Workers Experience an Uptick in Sexual Harassment in 2020

2020 has come with a stream of endless hardships – isolation, job losses, civil unrest and nationwide unease. Indoor dining services have been shut down for countless restaurants in California and the rest of the country.  In addition to worrying about health and safety during this unusual year, a new study shows that sickness is not restaurant workers’ only concern.

A noticeable increase in sexualized comments and harassment

A recent study from One Fair Wage shows that restaurant workers face a dangerous combination of lower tips and increased sexual harassment.

41% of the restaurant employees who responded to One Fair Wage’s survey reported that there has been a noticeable increase in unwanted sexualized comments from customers. This has included demands for female employees to remove protective gear so they can evaluate the worker’s attractiveness to tip her accordingly.

Already, the restaurant industry sees more sexual harassment claims each year than any other industry in the United States. Approximately 90% of female and 70% of male restaurant employees are sexually harassed at work by managers, coworkers, or customers.

Over 70% of servers are women, who report to male managers. Many female servers report feeling uncomfortable conveying instances of harassment to their managers and many choose to leave instead.

The tipping system makes servers more vulnerable to harassment

Restaurant workers’ base pay typically falls far below the minimum wage and they depend on tips to make up their yearly income. Tips have become increasingly unreliable as a result of the pandemic. 83% of survey respondents reported that their tips have decreased since March. 66% reported that the decrease in tips was by at least 50%.

Due to the decline in tipping, employees are more fearful than ever of confronting a customer sexually harassing them. Telling the customer to stop could result in losing the tips that the server depends on to pay rent, buy groceries, and other necessities.

To stop this alarming trend, restaurant managers and patrons must get involved. If anyone witnesses inappropriate behavior toward a restaurant employee, step in on their behalf. Challenging a harasser can make them think twice before harassing another victim. Supporting the victim can also empower them to stand their ground and protect them from further harassment. Under California law, restaurants have a duty to stop patrons from sexually harassing their customers and may become liable for a customer’s harassment towards their employees if the harassment continues and they did not take reasonable steps to address it.

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