"Are You on the Dessert Menu?" Tipped Female Restaurant Workers and Sexual Harassment


In a profession where servers must be approachable, friendly, and accommodating, female tipped workers are often subjected to unwelcome advances, inappropriate comments, and offensive behavior from customers. For many tipped workers, the restaurant industry and other service-oriented sectors appear to be a double-edged sword. The prospect of earning gratuities can offer a financial incentive, but lurking beneath the surface lies a grim reality: the rampant prevalence of sexual harassment. Tipped workers, particularly those in restaurants, bars, and hospitality establishments, heavily rely on customer gratuities as a significant portion of their income. While tipping is intended to incentivize excellent service, it can also perpetuate a power dynamic that results in the sexual harassment of these service workers. This unique pay structure can be financially rewarding but it places tipped employees in a vulnerable position in which their livelihood is largely dependent on the goodwill of patrons.

Studies have shown that tipped employees, especially women, endure higher rates of sexual harassment compared to their non-tipped counterparts. According to a 2018 study by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a staggering 90% of female restaurant workers reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Women are more likely to be required to wear revealing uniforms when their employers depend on the customers to pay their employees’ wages. Customer-based sexual harassment of tipped employees in restaurants, bars, and other hospitality establishments might include unwelcome comments, jokes, or innuendos of a sexual nature, inappropriate touching or lewd gestures, or unwanted sexual advances.

The prevalence of sexual harassment faced by tipped workers extends beyond customer interactions; this sexually harassing conduct also encompasses coworkers and managers as well. With respect to this workplace sexual harassment, there are two types. One type is called, “quid pro quo sexual harassment” This occurs when a person in authority, such as a supervisor or manager, demands sexual favors from an employee in exchange for job-related benefits or promotions. At the heart of quid pro quo sexual harassment lies a power dynamic that perpetuates vulnerability. The harasser abuses his authority to manipulate the subordinate employee into acquiesce. With this, the harasser explicitly or implicitly requires a subordinate employee to accept sexual harassment as a term and condition of employment. The other type is “hostile work environment sexual harassment.” Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome sexual advances, comments, or conduct that creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile atmosphere at work. This form of harassment is not limited to physical contact and can include verbal or written remarks, sexually explicit jokes, offensive images, and other demeaning behaviors. The harassment does not necessarily have to be directed at the employee; it can also arise from witnessing or being aware of the harassment of others.

Many sexual harassment cases among tipped female restaurant workers go unreported. Women who have previously worked in the restaurant industry are 1.6 times more likely to tolerate harassing behaviors in the workplace than women currently employed as tipped workers, indicating that women who encounter sexual harassment in the restaurant industry are more likely to tolerate sexual harassment in other environments. The tipped worker system poses a unique challenge, as these workers' income heavily relies on tips, making them dependent on customers' discretion and less likely to confront harassment. Morgan Rooks PC is on your side. Do not sit back and take it. You do not have to tolerate objectification in the workplace, whether it be from a customer, co-worker, or manager. Contact us today to learn about your right to work in an environment that is free of sexual harassment.

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