Studies reveal most restaurant workers subject to sexual harassment

The food industry provides many opportunities for sexual harassment. Studies have shown that many restaurant workers have been subjected to this treatment.

In any industry, employees have the right to expect fair and respectful treatment. This extends to their race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. Unfortunately, not everyone in Massachusetts and elsewhere are treated right on the job, either by managers, co-workers or customers. Sexual harassment is an unpleasant problem in many companies, and studies show that this treatment is particularly bad in the restaurant industry.

Behavior that qualifies as sexual harassment

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts' website defines sexual harassment as any behavior of a sexual nature that is unwanted by one party. The behavior may take the form of unwelcome advances, offensive jokes or comments and inappropriate touching. The victim of sexual harassment may be the person who is targeted or another person who must continually witness the behavior. The behavior must be of a pervasive enough nature that those experiencing it are either being forced to endure a hostile work environment or feel that they may be penalized or lose their jobs by speaking out against the harassment.

For example, an employee might feel pressured to give in to a manager's repeated requests for sexual favors or risk receiving a bad performance review, being passed up on a promotion or being terminated. A worker might be stalked after hours by a co-worker or hear sexually demeaning jokes in the breakroom. Employees could be the target of crude comments or unwanted touching by customers. If they complain, management might ignore their complaints or tell them it is part of the job and they must put up with it. This type of treatment has the potential to negatively impact the workplace for multiple workers, regardless of whether they are the intended target or merely witnessing the behavior.

Restaurant employees and harassment

USA Today states that workers in the restaurant industry report sexual harassment more than those in any other job and more than any other type of harassment or discrimination. According to a study by Restaurant Opportunities Center, up to 90 percent of females working as food servers or waitresses have said they were sexually harassed on the job. In fact, a third of the food industry workers who took place in the study said they experienced sexual harassment by customers on a weekly basis. Up to two-thirds said they had been sexually harassed by their managers several times a month. Women are not the only ones who endure this type of treatment at work. At least 50 percent of the male food servers polled said they had been sexually harassed by a superior.

The nature of the restaurant industry might encourage sexualizing employees, which could be magnified if servers are required to work in suggestive uniforms or put up with rude or intoxicated customers. However, this does not mean that managers should be a part of the problem or look the other way. It may be necessary to speak with an employee rights attorney in Boston if sexual harassment on the job has become a problem.

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