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Can sexual harassment among restaurant workers be stopped?

People don't just go out to eat -- they go out to be entertained. Restaurants increasingly are billed as places to cut loose and have a good time. Does that good time include sexually harassing the waitstaff? A lot of servers say that, unfortunately, it does.

Worse, management may not be exactly supportive of the servers' attempts to put a stop to the harassment. In many cases, the manager or co-workers may just be additional harassers that a server figures he or she has to put up with in order to keep the job.

A 2014 report indicates that 66 percent of female restaurant employees and more than half of male employees have been harassed by their own managers. The figures are even higher when it comes to harassment by co-workers.

Many in the industry, however, report that the problem is the worst when it comes from patrons. Seventy-eight percent of female servers and 55 percent of male servers report being sexually harassed by customers -- but servers are reluctant to put a stop to it, because they rely on the customers' good will and tips to survive. Exceptions to minimum wage laws allow restaurants to pay servers a meager hourly rate, forcing them to cater to their abusive patrons if they want to get paid a decent hourly rate. Some servers even say that restaurant mangers expect them to "play along," essentially grinning their way through lewd jokes, sexual suggestions, comments on their bodies and clothes and even a occasional fondled body part -- just to keep the atmosphere up and the customers coming back through the door.

If you're a restaurant server, you have the right to a workplace that's free from sexual harassment, whether it's coming from your management, your co-workers or your patrons. Sexual harassment doesn't have to be "quid pro quo" in form, where you're offered a bonus or a promotion (or even a better schedule) in exchange for sexual favors. It can be in the form of hostile work environment as well. If your management is part of the problem or refuses to stop out-of-control co-workers or patrons, you may have a good case for a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Facts About Sexual Harassment," accessed Dec. 23, 2016

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