Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Tipped Restaurant Workers Prime Targets

Woman at work in restaurant.

We can file this under, “totally not surprised, but really wish it wasn’t the case:” Tipped workers are prone to sexual harassment in the workplace more than their non-tipped peers.

Jezebel’s “Kitchenette” recently wrote about the results of the study “The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry” conducted by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC). The results clearly show that tipped workers who received the lower-than-standard minimum wage (it typically sits right around $2.13 an hour) get sexually harassed a lot more than people not working for tips. The study included 688 employees of both genders across 39 states. (Of note: This study wasn’t peer reviewed. The group, however, hopes that the study’s results will at least be considered, and possibly lead to the end of “tipped minimum wage.”)

But wait! There’s more: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also reports that more sexual harassment in the workplace claims come from the restaurant industry than anywhere else. And here’s another disturbing number for you to chew on: 80 percent of women in the restaurant industry have been harassed by managers, customers, or co-workers.

So, why all the harassment? The link seems to be because these employees work for tips. In the United States, 43 states use the “tipped sub-minimum wage” to pay employees. In these states, there are routinely more complaints about sexual harassment on the job, and more disturbingly, more instances where the workers put up with the harassment. Another surprising factor that leads to an increased amount of sexual harassment? When male and female employees wear different uniforms at a restaurant. (Also of note: Women in these states were encouraged to “dress sexy” for better tips.)

Another article that appeared on The Washington Post‘s website reports that workers often have to pick between “overlooking inappropriate behavior,” or “protesting at the risk of lost wages.” The Post article also provides some academic backup for the ROC’s claims: “A 2008 article in the Journal of Aggression and Violent (sic) noted research on how salespeople respond less assertively to sexual misbehavior from customers when commissions are at stake.”

Now, on the bright side of all this: Restaurant workers in states without “sub-minimum wage” get harassed a lot less. These workers receive one “fair wage” and don’t have to rely on tips. For years, labor groups have been pushing for the end of tipped minimum wage. These groups say that tips are an unreliable way to get a steady income, and are often unfair.

Sadly, this news doesn’t surprise me at all. I have plenty of female friends who have worked in the restaurant industry at one time or another, and have been harassed by bosses, and customers. Most of the time these friends just shrugged off the treatment because they didn’t want to call attention to themselves, and wanted to keep their jobs. This type of harassment shouldn’t be happening and it would be great if the industry would do more as a whole to help protect waiters and their wages.

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Image: skedonk

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.