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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 superiors to take advantage of their 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 advances. 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 sexual harassment 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 a hotel employee or restaurant waitress, reported allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual 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 sexual abuse and sexual misconduct instances go unreported by survivors of sexual assault, which means that the actual rates are much higher than what is reported in studies or in the media headlines
The EEOC approximates that as many as 75% of all workplace sexual harassment occurrences still go unreported, and workers endure this harassment due to financial needs and job insecurity. Many workers in the service industry are immigrant workers, and they may feel powerlessness under supervisors’ abusive programs. 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 has unusual hours for its employees, typically requires specific dress codes that differ for men and women, and serves liquor. These factors all lead to a louder, noisier, and more festive 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 did not 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 women workers ignored the abusive behavior, and about 12% to 13% of women felt pressured to go along with the behavior. Among the women experiencing sexual harassment from the management, about 34% believed their shifts would worsen, 20% believed they would not 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 in the service industry.
Sexual harassment reports were highest in restaurants that required men and women to wear different uniforms. Further, the sub-minimum wage system does not 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 minimum wage payments are required.
Which Service Industries Have the Most Reported Sexual Harassment Claims?
The services industry contains many facets, each with different elements to foster potential sexual abuse and sexual harassment. The following industries have reported the most sexual harassment claims:
Accommodation and food services:
Based on ten years of US 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.
One of the contributory factors may be the sub-minimum wage, which makes workers rely heavily on tips. Both tipped and non-tipped workers indicated that the sub-minimum wage system itself partially shaped the overall restaurant work environment. These industry workers reported 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.
The next industry with the most 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 industry.
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. Perpetrators are not only supervisors or bosses. Victims often report being abused or harassed by supervisors of different departments, coworkers, or even patrons of the restaurant, hotel, 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 towards another individual, whether that is 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 another individual;
- Constantly requesting another individual to socialize during off-hours, specifically when that person has rejected those advances;
- Giving sexually suggestive presents or objects;
- Making sexual gestures to another individual;
- 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 could cause the victim to be unproductive at work.
Further, unwanted advances can lead to ruined careers and devastate the lives of many individuals by forcing them to leave an industry they are passionate about. No one should have to feel demeaned, neglected, or unwelcome in an 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. An experienced sexual abuse attorney can help you navigate these complex laws to ensure that you receive the justice you deserve.
What can restaurants, hotels, and retail companies do to reduce sexual harassment?
The service industry must take strong steps against sexual harassment and put in place policies to prevent discriminatory practices. Some of these steps 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, legal advocacy groups, and support groups for preventing sexual abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace provide resources for employers to prevent workplace sexual assault and harassment.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has released the following:
- Ending Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Workplace
- Sexual Violence and the Workplace: Information for Employers
In addition, state government agencies have also released guidelines for employers, such as:
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 your rights, organize with your coworkers to transform the work environment, and help cultivate a work culture based on zero tolerance of sexual harassment.
Suppose you are an employee that was the target of sexual abuse or harassment. In that case, you should inform both the perpetrator and the higher-ups at the company about the perpetrator’s 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 do not feel comfortable reporting the abuse to your supervisor, you can also report the abuse to various other avenues for independent investigations, 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, or other federal agencies that help survivors and victims of sexual assault.
You should also contact a knowledgeable service industry sex abuse law firm to help guide you through the processes of reporting and seeking justice.
I was sexually assaulted as a guest-
If you were sexually assaulted as a guest, the company may potentially be held 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 potentially liable.
It is crucial to consult with an experienced attorney to determine whether the employer can be held liable.
I was sexually assaulted as an employee-
If you were sexually assaulted as an employee by another employee, the company may potentially be held liable as well. 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 the employees, or failed to report the abuse appropriately, then the employer may be potentially liable.
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the service industry, contact Herman Law or call (866)244-6443 for a free consultation to understand your legal rights and how you can seek justice.