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Restaurant servers more likely to be sexually harassed at work

According to studies by the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, restaurant servers - both male and female - are more likely to be the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. The data, published in an interview on tipping practices with a Washington Post journalist, indicates that the restaurant industry receives five times the number of sexual harassment claims than any other industry. Furthermore, studies found that 30 percent of sexual harassment claims made by women come from restaurant workers, though only seven percent of American women work in that industry. 

This shocking disparity underscores the importance of understanding your employment rights. The director of research at UC Berkeley, Saru Jayaraman, noted that in some studies, she found that women who were accustomed to being sexually harassed as a server were slower to report harassment in other fields once they moved on from waiting tables. The reason? Because the harassment wasn't "as bad" as when they were servers.

The problem cuts both ways

This is not to say that all restaurant owners encourage or refuse to do anything about sexual harassment. In fact, many have strong policies prohibiting harassment on the part of employees, management and yes, even customers.

Jayaraman notes, however, that sometimes a disconnect between the corporate office (the real "owner" of the company) and local management exists such that harassment claims go unanswered or take longer to be addressed than they should. This disconnect occurs more frequently in chain restaurants where franchisees have more autonomy over their particular establishments.

The problem is not only bad for employees, but also employers, she insists. Servers who feel pressured to please customers above all else are more likely to engage in "non-malicious but less than ideal practices," like appeasing upset customers with complimentary drinks or appetizers. These practices hurt the company's bottom line. Being constantly belittled or hit on while working can also create a negative work environment for servers and bar attendants. Such an environment could lead to lackluster performance and high rates of employee turnover.

What you can do

Whatever side of this issue you fall on, whether as employer or employee, talking with an experienced attorney is essential if you encounter sexual harassment or alleged sexual harassment in your workplace. Sexual harassment claims require intense investigation and a clear head to navigate successfully. An employment lawyer with practical experience handling such claims will be your best ally to obtain a satisfactory resolution.

Source: Washington Post, "I dare you to read this and still feel good about tipping," Feb. 18, 2016

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