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Sexual assault and harassment occur in all industries in America. However, the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in service industry jobs is much higher. This may be attributed to the hierarchical structure of the service industry corporate governance, which allows bosses and authoritative figures to take advantage of their superior positions. This can happen in the restaurant industry, food services industry, retail trade, coffee shops, hotels, or any other business that provides hospitality or retail services.
These superiors will often stress to employees that an employment decision could depend on the employee submitting to sexual advances or that their job could be terminated for rejecting unwanted sexual contact. In some instances, higher-ups create an intimidating, hostile work environment for employees that reject sexual advances.
Studies show that about two-thirds of the women and half of the men in service industry jobs have experienced sexual harassment from supervisors, managers, or owners. This is, of course, particularly problematic because of the power imbalance. As such, “sexual harassment has become a way for management to build a subservient and dependent workforce based on exerting physical and financial control.”
Bosses, owners, managers, and supervisors all exercise authority to determine and control the norms of workplace culture, including which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. The fact that workers in the restaurant business have experienced inappropriate behavior from managers in positions of authority suggests that management is not invested in preventing or helping improve the sexualized culture of the restaurant workplace.
Sexual Harassment in Service Industries
Bloomberg Law reported that service industry employees filed more than 7,500 sexual harassment claims and charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in FY 2018—this was a 14% increase from FY 2017.
The Guardian reported that 89% of hospitality industry workers, such as hotel employees or restaurant waitresses, reported allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment on the job. More than half of those employees reported being harassed by a customer, and a quarter of those employees reported that a manager sexually harassed them. However, many cases of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct go unreported by victims of sexual assault, which means the actual rates are much higher than what’s reported in studies or in media headlines.
The EEOC approximates that as many as 75% of all incidents of workplace sexual harassment go unreported. What’s worse, workers endure this harassment due to financial needs and job insecurity. Many workers in the service industry are immigrants and minorities, and they may feel powerless under supervisors’ abuse.
Also, there may be a lack of security personnel on hotel and service industry premises. Sexual harassment may occur more often at hospitality venues since the industry and its employees have unusual hours, require specific dress codes that differ for men and women, and serve liquor, leading to a louder, noisier, more festive, and uncontrolled atmosphere. As such, workers may be more susceptible to advances or suggestive comments by customers or managers.
Statistics in the restaurant and hospitality industries on allegations against superiors
According to the Glass Floor survey respondents, women experience sexual harassment from owners at a higher rate than men. A vast majority (86%) of the women reported sexual attention from management, compared to 74% of the male respondents. Only 25% of the men and 14% of the women didn’t experience these behaviors from management.
One-third of the women reported being deliberately touched or pinched by management, and 20% received pressure to go on dates and were told to “look sexy” at work by management. Over one-third of the women (36%) experienced sexually suggestive looks or gestures from management, compared to 25% of the men; 20% of the women got pressured for dates, compared to 10% of their male counterparts; and about 29% of the women experienced being leaned over, cornered, pinched, or touched in other deliberate and unwanted ways.
Statistics on how many allegations mention that they received retaliation threats if they came forward
A majority of the women believe they would experience negative consequences, including financial loss, public humiliation, or job termination if they tried to report sexual harassment from management or customers. About 63% of female workers ignored the abusive behavior, and about 12-13% of women felt pressured to go along with the behavior.
Among the women experiencing sexual harassment from management, about 34% believed their shifts would worsen, 20% believed they wouldn’t get an increase or promotion, and 11% believed they would lose their jobs if they confronted the issue.
What Women Experience in Service Industries
Women comprise 52% of all restaurant employees, and they comprise two-thirds of all tipped restaurant workers. For women in service industries, the sub-minimum wage and the different uniform requirements for men and women make females more susceptible to sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment reports were highest in restaurants that required men and women to wear different uniforms. Further, the sub-minimum wage system doesn’t just determine their income but also affects their experience at work. Tipped women workers state that their supervisors tell them to alter how they look by wearing “sexier” or more revealing clothes three times more often than in states where requirements are in place for minimum wage payments.
Which Service Industries Have the Most Reported Sexual Harassment Claims?
There are many reasons why service industry workers experience sexual abuse and sexual harassment at a disporportionate rate. The following industries have reported the most sexual harassment claims:
Accommodation and food services:
Based on ten years of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data from 2005-2015, the accommodation and food service industry comprises about 14.23% of all sexual harassment or sexual abuse claims to the EEOC, which is the highest rate of reported sexual harassment claims within any industry.
One of the contributing factors is the sub-minimum wage, which results in workers that rely heavily on tips. Both tipped and non-tipped workers indicate that the sub-minimum wage system shapes the overall restaurant work environment. Industry workers in sub-minimum wage environments report higher rates of sexual harassment.
A study shows that the sexualized atmosphere experienced by restaurant workers is reflected and amplified by management policies requiring women to wear revealing uniforms. For restaurant workers, 85% reported that the restaurant where they worked had a uniform policy, and 30% of workers reported that men and women were required to wear different uniforms. Out of these workers, 40% of women felt uncomfortable in their uniforms, compared to 13% of men.
The retail industry has the next highest rate of workplace sexual harassment, comprising approximately 13.44% of all the EEOC’s claims. This high percentage has been linked to the retail worker’s vulnerability and low wages as well as the industry’s confusing, complicated, and sometimes ineffective complaint process following an incident.
After the service industry and retail, the industry with the highest reports of sexual harassment claims is the manufacturing industry, with about 11.72% of sexual harassment allegations reported. “Because many manufacturing jobs—such as machinists and craft workers—have long been male-dominated, women who enter the field may lack power or be seen as outsiders, thus making them targets for harassment.”
Health care and social assistance:
Notably, the health care and social assistance industry accounted for 11.48% of workplace sexual harassment claims. The reason for this could be that the sector is dominated by women, and particularly women of color, like the service and retail industries.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. According to the EEOC, both the victim and the sexual harasser can be male or female, and the victim and harasser can be of the same sex, demonstrating that sexual abuse can happen to all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Additionally, perpetrators aren’t only supervisors or bosses. Victims often report being abused or harassed by supervisors of different departments, coworkers, or even patrons of restaurants, hotels, or other places of employment.
The Office of Civil Rights defines the following unwelcome actions as sexual harassment, depending on the circumstance:
- Repetitive actions of sexual jokes, teasing, or sexual innuendos toward another individual, whether in person or via email;
- Verbally abusing another individual in a sexual manner;
- Unwanted grabbing, touching, or fondling, regardless of whether clothed or not;
- Repeatedly standing close to another individual and purposefully brushing up against them;
- Constantly requesting another individual to socialize during off-hours, specifically when that person has previously rejected invitations or advances;
- Giving sexually suggestive presents or objects;
- Making sexual gestures to another individual; and
- Posting or creating offensive or sexually demeaning pictures, cartoons, memes, or other materials in the work environment.
What impact does sexual harassment have on the workplace?
Sexual harassment impacts the workplace by devaluing individual human worth and dignity, which often results in a decrease in productivity. Further, unwanted advances can ruin careers and devastate lives when workers leave an industry they’re passionate about.
No one should have to feel demeaned, neglected, or unwelcome in a workplace environment due to sexual harassment. Employees and patrons have legal rights to receive compensation for sexual abuse in the service industry and seek other forms of justice. A sexual abuse attorney can help you navigate these complex laws to ensure you receive the justice you deserve.
What can restaurants, hotels, and retail companies do to reduce sexual harassment?
The service industry must take a strong stance against sexual harassment and put in place policies to prevent discriminatory practices. Steps these employers can take include:
- Establishing and strengthening an anti-harassment policy
- Regularly training all employees and managers on the policy and the law
- Vigorously enforcing the policies put in place
- Having clear reporting procedures
- Having strong anti-retaliation policies
- Ensuring all employees have a clear understanding of repercussions of harassment and sexual abuse
- Establishing workplace policies that promote an equitable work environment for all—an example is requiring similar uniforms for men and women
- Improving skills in asking for consent and respecting the answer, challenging jokes that demean others, and maintaining and modeling healthy relationships
- Encouraging employers and supervisors to respect employees’ boundaries and bodies, challenging unfair gender stereotypes, and treating others with respect
- Improving policies and practices within the workplace to ensure everyone is treated fairly
- Screening staff and volunteers and training them frequently on healthy behavior and boundaries
Resources for Employers on Preventing Workplace Sexual Assault and Harassment
Many advocates and legal advocacy groups, provide resources for employers to prevent workplace sexual assault and harassment. Support groups are also available for victims of sexual abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center released the following:
- Ending Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Workplace
- Sexual Violence and the Workplace: Information for Employers
In addition, state government agencies released guidelines for employers in the following states:
- New York. New laws enacted in 2019 ensure that harrassment need not be severe in order to be punishable. The laws also require employers to adopt sexual harassment prevention policies and training, and increased the statute of limitations from one to three years.
- California. California law doesn’t require the offensive conduct to be motivated by sexual desire, but can also include creating a hostile work environment. Newly enacted laws require employers of more than five employees to provide one hour of sexual harassment and abusive conduct prevention training to nonsupervisory employees, and two hours to supervisory employees every two years.
- Florida. Florida law provides guidance to supervisors regarding their responsibility in preventing and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace.
What should I do if I was sexually assaulted in the services industry?
As an employee, you should know your rights and take action to enforce them, organize with your coworkers to transform the work environment, and help cultivate a work culture with zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
If you’re an employee who’s the target of sexual abuse or harassment, you should inform both the perpetrator and the higher-ups within the company about the unwelcome conduct. You should not fear any retaliation efforts because you have the legal right to be free from sexual abuse or harassment. By coming forward, you will reveal the perpetrator and prevent future sexual abuse at the hands of that abuser.
If you don’t feel comfortable reporting the abuse to your supervisor, you can also report the abuse in other ways to promote independent investigations by various entities, including:
- The human resources department
- Law enforcement authorities
- The offending person’s supervisor
- Executive directors of the company
- The EEOC
- The Office of Civil Rights
- Other federal agencies that help survivors and victims of sexual assault
You should also contact a service industry sex abuse law firm to help guide you through the processes of reporting and seeking justice.
What if I was sexually assaulted as a guest in the service industry?
If you were sexually assaulted as a guest, the company may potentially be liable for the assault. If the company failed to take the necessary steps to thoroughly vet the abuser, enforce training or supervisory policies, or report the issue to the appropriate investigative department, they may be liable for the harm caused to you.
It’s crucial to consult with an attorney familiar with sexual abuse or assault cases to determine whether the employer can be held liable.
What if I was sexually assaulted as an employee in the service industry?
If you’re an employee who was sexually assaulted by another employee, the company may be potentially liable. Again, if the company failed to implement the necessary policies against sexual harassment, failed to vet the employee, failed to provide sexual harassment training for employees, or failed to report the abuse appropriately, then the employer may be responsible for any resulting harm.
If you were a victim of sexual harassment in the service industry, contact Herman Law today or call 1 (800) 686-9921 for a free consultation to understand your legal rights and how you can seek justice.