Harassment Blog

Sexual Harassment: 6 Things you Should Know

Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This would mean any type of unwanted sexual conduct at work, including verbal harassment, intimidation, unwanted touching, requests or demands for sex, or outright assault. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a sexual harassment claim or for participating in an investigation or providing witness testimony as part of a claim filed by another employee.

The Harvey Weinstein revelations and the birth of the #MeToo movement have highlighted just how widespread sexual harassment still is, even though it has been more than half a century since this practice was made illegal. With so many women (and men) having to deal with this issue, it is important for us to be more educated about it.

Here are six things you should know about sexual harassment:

  1. The Vast Majority of Women have Experienced Some Type of Sexual Harassment

A 2018 survey reported by NPR shows that sexual harassment is anything but an isolated incident. It found that 81% of women and 43% of men had been sexually harassed at some point during their lifetimes. Broken down even further, the survey found the following:

  • 77% of women and 34% of men have experienced verbal sexual harassment;
  • 51% of women and 17% of men have experienced unwanted sexual touching;
  • 41% of women and 22% of men have experienced cyber-sexual harassment;
  • 34% of women and 12% of men have been physically followed/stalked;
  • 30% of women and 12% of men have been subjected to unwanted genital flashing;
  • 27% of women and 7% of men have been sexually assaulted.

Of those who have been harassed, 66% of women say it is happened in public places such as the workplace, while another 35% say it is happened at their residence. Most people who say they have experienced harassment say that it is happened in multiple locations.

These numbers tell us that those who are subjected to sexual harassment are far from alone, although they may feel that way. Oftentimes, when one person summons the courage to report being harassed, others who have been harassed start believing it is safe to come forward as well. But as we have seen in cases like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, it can take years or even decades for this to happen. This is why it is so important to report it if you are being harassed, because chances are there are others who are going through (or have gone through) the same thing you are.

  • Bosses/Managers/Supervisors are not the Only Ones who are Guilty of Sexual Harassment

Although sexual harassment often happens between a boss and their subordinate, this is not always the case. A harasser can be a co-worker, colleague, contractor, or even someone from outside the organization. One common example is in the medical industry, where many female doctors are sexually harassed by patients.

  • Very Few Employees are Ever Eager to Report Harassment

Contrary to popular belief in some circles, there is not some big lineup of false accusers ready to come out of the woodwork and file charges against someone for sexual harassment. The fact is that most victims are very reluctant to come forward because they know that it could be severely damaging to their careers.

When someone reports harassment, even though they are supposed to remain anonymous, there is a good chance that the perpetrator will know who it is. There is also a good chance that the victim will be labeled as “moody” or “hard to work with” and be reassigned to a different job while the perpetrator remains where they are. And even though there may not be any direct retaliation, important people in the organization may shy away from the victim, costing them potential opportunities.

Not too many people want this kind of trouble – most would rather stay silent and hope it goes away. At the end of the day, the reason a victim comes forward has more to do with protecting others from going through the same thing s/he has had to endure rather than to collect a big legal “payday”.

  • An Organization Needs to Show they are Serious for the Workplace Culture to Change

Just about every organization with more than 10 or 15 employees has some type of written anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy. Many also bring in outside specialists to train employees and make them aware about what is and what is not appropriate workplace conduct. But unfortunately, an official policy and a day or two of training is about all the attention some organizations give to the subject. They check off the appropriate legal boxes, but when it comes right down to it, they are indifferent when actual reports of harassment are filed. An organization needs to have a true “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual harassment. Because if they just pay lip service to it, perpetrators will continue to get away with this type of behavior and the workplace culture will not really change.

  • Quitting Could Hurt Your Ability to take Legal Action

If you are experiencing sexual harassment in your workplace, it is important to realize that, as unfair as it may be, quitting could cause you to forfeit your right to file a lawsuit. This is because if you are not an employee of the company anymore, you would not be able to file a harassment claim on their policy. And without that claim, you might not be able to take further legal action. If you want to quit the company where you are being sexually harassed, it is best to do so after you have filed the claim and participated in the investigation.

  • An Isolated Incident May Not be Enough to Bring a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Another hard fact about workplace harassment is that a one-time incident might not be enough for you to take legal action. You should still report the harassment so it is documented, because you never know if the perpetrator may turn into a repeat offender down the road. And as mentioned earlier, you also never know who else the perpetrator might be harassing. While this one incident might not be enough to build a legal claim around, having it on the record could lay the groundwork for a future lawsuit if the harassment is repeated.

Experienced Sexual Harassment in Alabama? Contact Attorney Kira Fonteneau for Assistance

If you have been sexually harassed in an Alabama workplace, it is always best to talk with a skilled and knowledgeable workplace discrimination attorney, so you fully understand your legal rights and options. To schedule a free, no obligation consultation with attorney Kira Fonteneau, message us online or call our office today at 205-564-9005. We look forward to speaking with you!

Bullying in the Legal Workplace

Bullying has always been a major issue among school kids. And from old-fashioned schoolyard bullying to cyber-bullying, the topic of bullying in schools has been widely discussed, debated, and in many cases, acted upon in recent years. What is not talked about as much is bullying in the workplace, and in particular, the legal workplace.

You would think that legal professionals, of all people, would be the most vigilant in stopping harassment and bullying in the workplace, but surveys of those who work in this profession indicate that this is not the case.

A survey of all industries by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that 19% of American workers report being bullied, while another 19% report having witnessed bullying.  Overall, 61% of Americans are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace. 

In the legal profession, however, things appear to be far worse. According to an International Bar Association (IBA) survey of more than 5,000 legal workers, 43% of respondents report having been bullied at work – this is more than double the rate of other work environments. Broken down by gender, about one out of every two women have been bullied, and it has happened to one out of every three men.

Here are some other troubling statistics from the IBA survey. In 57% of the cases, the bullying was never reported to anyone, and it is easy to see why. In 71% of the cases that were reported, the response to the incident (according to the victim) was “insufficient or negligible”. 76% of the time, the perpetrator was not sanctioned for their behavior, and in 66% of the cases, the situation remained unchanged or it was exacerbated after the bullying was reported.

Why does Bullying Happen so Much in the Legal Profession?

The IBA survey identified a number of possible factors that may be contributing to the problem of bullying in the legal workplace. One of these factors is the issue we discussed earlier – lack of reporting. If nearly six out of every 10 incidents of bullying are not reported to anyone, how much fear is the perpetrator going to have of getting caught? And if things usually stay the same or get worse after an incident gets reported, then the lack of reporting problem is unlikely to change much – it becomes a vicious and never-ending cycle.

Another common issue within the legal profession that leads to bullying is power imbalances.  This is especially true in larger law firms (commonly known as BigLaw firms). Large firms with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of associates are controlled by senior partners who have been there a long time and bring a lot of money into the firm. This can often look like a “good old boys” network of long-term partners who always look out for each other. And when one of these partners mistreats a younger associate, there is a good chance that no significant action will ever be taken against them.

The IBA assigns some of the blame for the problem of bullying in law firms to the common personality traits lawyers have. The legal profession is adversarial and combative in nature, and this can foster a culture of aggression, and an atmosphere that can quickly become toxic.

Is Workplace Bullying Illegal?

This is a good question, and the answer is, “it depends”. A person who is mean is not necessarily breaking the law, especially if they are mean to everyone. You may have heard someone described as an “equal opportunity offender”. But this person’s behavior might not constitute unlawful harassment.

In order for bullying in the workplace to be illegal, it must be tied to another protected category; such as gender, race, color, national origin, or religion. In other words, an individual is bullied because of being a woman or minority. Bullying could also be tied to other types of civil or criminal wrongdoing, such as assault, in which case appropriate legal action would need to be taken.

What Can Law Firms do to Stop Bullying?

Even without a specific federal law against general bullying in the workplace, law firms and other employers can implement policies and procedures that prohibit this type of behavior and seek to prevent it. Bullying can create very low morale and severely damage productivity within any organization, so it is in everyone’s best interests to do everything possible to stop it.

Some measures employers can take include:

  • Conduct surveys among employees to learn about the specific problems with bullying in their particular workplace;
  • Implement clearly written anti-bullying policies and make sure they are published in every language that is spoken within the organization;
  • Conduct civility training with each member of the organization, and make it clear that no one is exempt from anti-bullying policies;
  • Demonstrate a commitment to the policies that have been implemented by fostering a culture of treating everyone civilly from the top down;
  • Implement clear, straightforward, and understandable reporting procedures, so everyone knows where and how to report incidents of bullying;
  • Be sure that the reporting procedures are set up in a way that maintains the confidentiality of those who report being bullied or having witnessed it happening, and that those reporting these incidents are protected from retaliation.

Have you Been Bullied in the Workplace? Find Out your Legal Rights

If you have experienced bullying in a law firm or any other type of workplace, this could constitute illegal harassment. And if this has happened to you, you do not have to continue putting up with it. There are potential legal recourses available, which may include filing a harassment lawsuit against your employer. 

If you are in Alabama, call attorney Kira Fonteneau for skilled legal guidance. Kira will go over your situation and advise you of your legal rights and options, so you can make the most informed decision on what your next steps should be. To schedule your free consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005 or message us through our web contact form.

Sexual Harassment Part 6: Sexual Harassment in the Legal Workplace

In our series on sexual harassment in the workplace, we have looked at several industries that are different from one another but are similar in the fact that far too many of their workers are bullied or harassed because of their gender. In our final installment, we are going to look at sexual harassment in the legal profession.

Over the past few decades, numerous legal professionals have done outstanding work obtaining justice for those who have been victims of sexual harassment. But sadly, this problem is just as pervasive within the legal profession as it is in many other industries. And in fact, there are some unique reasons why sexual harassment may be even more difficult to address when it happens in law firms than when it happens in other workplaces.

Although firms take the harassment complaints of their clients very seriously, they tend to give much less weight to those who complain of harassment within their own ranks. Managers at law firms usually ask for a lot of proof that harassment is occurring, especially when a newer female associate complains about a male associate who brings in a lot of cases. Many firms simply do not want to investigate these types of situations for fear that they will find the complaint to be true and have to take disciplinary action against someone who is making the firm a lot of money.

How Bad is the Problem of Sexual Harassment in the Legal Workplace?

Various surveys have produced different results with regards to the number of people who are sexually harassed at law firms. In our last post, we referenced a study by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) of white-collar industries that found that 22% of women had been harassed in the legal services field.

However, a comprehensive study conducted by Acritas (a leading legal industry data collection firm) and published by Bloomberg News found that more than one out of every three (35%) of female lawyers had been sexually harassed at work. And what’s worse is that 77% of female harassment victims never reported the incident.

It is easy to see why sexual harassment victims in the legal industry are very hesitant to report what has happened to them. As mentioned earlier, firms tend to be very complacent when this type of behavior is reported, and they often do not take it very seriously.

An even better reason not to tell anyone is fear of repercussions for reporting a senior associate who harasses you. What if this person was your mentor? What if this person was in charge of assigning cases to you? Are you really going to risk losing out on being part of an important case over a few remarks or sexual advances?

And what happens if your harassment complaints get leaked to the rest of the office? This could cause you to be shunned by your co-workers and labeled “difficult” to work with.

Ultimately, it is a major career risk to report sexual harassment in the legal workplace. You may not be believed, and worse, you may be embarrassed, humiliated, and end up with far fewer career advancement opportunities.

The Revolt Against Forced Arbitration in BigLaw Firms

For legal industry workers who are brave enough to report sexual harassment, they often find that they have more limited legal options than they may have believed. This is because the overwhelming majority of larger law firms (commonly known as BigLaw) have made it a practice to force new employees to sign mandatory arbitration clauses. This means that if an employee complains about being harassed, the complaint must be resolved through binding arbitration with no option to pursue a lawsuit.

Thankfully, the #MeToo movement is beginning to change all of this. Last year, a group of Harvard Law students known as the Pipeline Parity Project began a movement to pressure large law firms into dropping their mandatory arbitration clauses. So far, they have been able to successfully persuade dozens of BigLaw firms to drop these clauses, but numerous firms still have them, and there is still a long way to go in cleaning up the problem of sexual harassment in the legal field.

Have you Been Bullied or Harassed in the Legal Workplace? Speak with an Experienced Employment Law Attorney

If you have been a victim of sexual harassment as a legal worker or as a worker in any other industry, you are not alone, and the tide is beginning to turn against those who would prefer to sweep this problem under the rug. You no longer have to tolerate having to earn a living in a hostile work environment; you can fight back, and there is legal relief available, which may include monetary damages.

Attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for the working people of Alabama since 2005. Kira has successfully represented numerous clients who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, and she can meet with you to discuss your case and advise you of your legal rights and options. For a confidential consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005 or message us through our web contact form.

Sexual Harassment Part 5: Sexual Harassment in the White-Collar Workplace

Previously, we have discussed sexual harassment in the medical industry, hospitality industry, retail industry, and manufacturing industry. Today, we are not going to focus on a particular industry, but on those who typically work in a professional office environment. Another term commonly used to describe this area would be the “white-collar” workplace.

For some industries, this could mean only the upper management and HR departments of an organization, such as would be the case in industries where most of the employees are blue-collar workers. There are other industries, however, where virtually everyone in the organization is a white-collar worker.

According to a Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) study that was published by Variety Magazine in 2018, the white-collar industries with the highest incidents of sexual harassment are:

  • Media: 41% of women and 22% of men report being sexually harassed in the media industry.
  • Technology & Communications: 37% of women and 12% of men report being sexually harassed in technology and communications.
  • Consulting: In the field of consulting and management, 36% of women and 20% of men report being sexually harassed.
  • Health Care & Social Assistance: 35% of women and 14% of men have been sexually harassed in this industry.
  • Architecture, Engineering, & Aerospace: 32% of women and 16% of men have been sexually harassed in the architecture, engineering, and aerospace industry.
  • Pharmaceuticals and Other Scientific Research: 27% of women in 17% of men who work in the field of scientific research report having been sexually harassed.
  • Financial Services: Although it has one of the lowest rates of sexual harassment among white collar industries, one of the widest gender disparities exists within the banking, finance, and insurance industry. In this industry, 26% of women and just 7% of men report having been sexually harassed.
  • Legal Services: The legal industry is similar to financial services, with 22% of women and just 7% of men having been sexually harassed.

Here are some other noteworthy findings from the CTI study:

  • 72% of the women who are sexually harassed in white-collar workplaces experience harassment from a supervisor or colleague who is more senior in their career;
  • 57% of men who experience sexual harassment are harassed by other men;
  • The vast majority of women who experience sexual harassment are harassed by men, and Hispanic and white women are the most likely targets (37% for each group);
  • Sexual harassment in the white-collar workplace seems to cut pretty evenly across generational lines. Overall, 23% of millennials, 24% of Gen-Xers, and 25% of Baby Boomers have been sexually harassed by a colleague.

Sexual Harassment in the Media

In 2017, the #MeToo movement triggered by sexual abuse allegations against powerful Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein launched a wave of sexual harassment and abuse charges at various media and entertainment companies. Dozens of high-profile personalities were exposed and forced to resign in the wake of these charges. Some examples include Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose.

The results of the CTI study confirmed that these high-profile harassment and abuse allegations were far from isolated incidents. Among all white-collar workplaces, the media and entertainment industries do indeed have the highest percentage of both women and men who have experienced sexual harassment.

Experts believe that sexual harassment is so widespread in the media and entertainment industries because there is a wider power imbalance than in most other workplaces. These are relationship-driven industries in which there are a select few gatekeepers who have the power to make or break a career. 

For many aspiring journalists, television personalities, and actors, the stakes are very high, and the success or failure of a career is often in the hands of one or two people. Under these types of conditions, it is no wonder that so many women were afraid to come forward before the #MeToo movement began.

Have you Been Harassed in the Workplace? Speak with an Experienced Employment Law Attorney

Sexual harassment may be more widespread in some industries than others, but sadly, it happens all too often in all types of workplaces. Whether you are a white-collar or blue-collar worker, if you have been sexually harassed at work, you do not have to tolerate or “live with” this situation.  There is legal relief available, which may include monetary damages.

For nearly 15 years, attorney Kira Fonteneau has fought for those in Alabama who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. She can meet with you to discuss your case and advise you of your rights and legal options. For a confidential consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also message us through our online contact form.

Sexual Harassment Part 4 – Sexual Harassment in the Manufacturing Industry

In the first three articles in our series on sexual harassment in the workplace, we have looked at the medical industry, hospitality industry, and the retail industry. This time, we will take a look at another working-class industry that does not receive very much attention with regards to sexual harassment; the manufacturing industry. Like the others we have talked about, women in this industry frequently have to endure a hostile work environment in which they often feel like they have very little recourse when they are being harassed.

Manufacturing is a unique industry in a lot of ways. The industry has traditionally been dominated by males, and even today, only about 25%-30% of manufacturing workers are female. Manufacturing is also different from many other industries in that there is virtually no customer interaction in this industry, and nearly all of the work is performed “behind the scenes” and away from the view of the general public. This makes it in an environment where it is much easier for workers to get away with bad behavior.

Sexual Harassment Complaints in the Manufacturing Industry

According to a 10-year study conducted by the Center for American Progress, manufacturing had the third highest number of EEOC complaints for sexual harassment. The industry received just under 12% of the 85,000+ complaints to the agency over their decade-long study. The only two industries that had more complaints were the food and accommodation (hospitality) industry and retail. This is surprising considering the low percentage of female workers in manufacturing compared to these other two industries, and it highlights the significance of the problem of sexual harassment in manufacturing. 

There are a lot of reasons sexual harassment is so pervasive in the manufacturing industry:

  • Isolated Workspaces: As mentioned earlier, most manufacturing happens away from public view. Workers are typically assigned to various places on an assembly line, and they often do their tasks with very little supervision. Managers tend to spend most of their time in the back office and only come out on the floor when there is a problem to attend to.
  • Culture of Silence: Manufacturing is a difficult and stressful job, and over the decades, reporting bad behavior has often been viewed as “snitching.” Workers frequently justify their actions by saying things like “this is the way things have always been” or that they were just “blowing off steam”. In this type of environment, women are often afraid to complain because they fear they will be labeled as “moody” or “difficult to work with”, which could put their livelihood in jeopardy.  
  • Lack of Sensitivity: In a traditionally male-dominated industry, sensitivity has never been a top priority. As such, salty language, inappropriate jokes, making fun of other employees, and similar conduct has always been seen as “no big deal” and just “part of the job.”  
  • Limited Accountability: The EEOC estimates that only about 6% to 13% of incidents of sexual harassment are ever formally reported. It is easy to see why this is the case in the manufacturing industry. Many harassed workers do not feel like anything will be done about their complaints. Higher level executives and their human resources personnel are usually located off-site, so there is a general feeling that workers’ complaints may not be taken seriously, and nothing will be done to hold those who are perpetrating this type of behavior accountable.

Changing a culture that has operated the same way for such a long time is never easy. That said, “things have always been this way” is not an acceptable defense. Sexual harassment and other forms of workplace harassment and discrimination are illegal under federal law, and no employee should have to endure a hostile work environment. Manufacturing companies need to take proactive steps; such as enacting stricter anti-harassment policies, ensuring that all workers and management are fully educated on these policies, implementing more transparent reporting policies, and making cultural changes to address this problem.

Have you Experienced Harassment in the Workplace? Know your Legal Rights

If you have been sexually harassed as a manufacturing employee or a worker in any other industry, you do not have to stay silent. Your right to a harassment-free workplace is protected by federal law, and there are legal remedies available, which may include the right to recover compensation. To learn more about the legal options you may have for your specific situation, it is best to speak with an experienced civil rights lawyer.

For nearly 15 years, attorney Kira Fonteneau has fought for the rights of working people in Alabama. Kira has helped numerous employees who have been subjected to harassment and discrimination obtain appropriate legal relief. For a confidential consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also message us through our web contact form.

Sexual Harassment Part 3: Sexual Harassment in the Retail Industry

Last month, we talked about sexual harassment in the hospitality industry and the unique circumstances that put hospitality workers in greater danger being harassed or sexually assaulted on the job. This time, we will look at another working-class industry in which a high number of workers are subjected to sexual harassment; the retail industry. According to CBS MarketWatch, retail is second only to the hospitality industry for the number of sexual harassment charges that are filed each year.

When some people think of retail, it conjures up images of glamour and fashion, shopping for clothing, trying on dresses and shoes, etc. But that is far from reality for most people who work in the retail industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time retail worker makes less than $33,000 per year, which is well below the U.S. median household income. In addition, 42% of those working in the industry earn a low hourly wage, defined as less than two-thirds of the median wage across the economy. Approximately 55% of low-wage workers in retail are women, and a large percentage of these women live at or near the poverty line.

Lower wage workers are more susceptible to sexual harassment largely because of their economic vulnerability. For one thing, harassers tend to target those who earn a lower income, because they believe victims are less likely to report the incident. With so many retail workers struggling to get by, the last thing they want is anything that may put their job in jeopardy.

Sexual harassment in the retail industry is not usually peer-to-peer; in a large number of cases, the harassers tend to be managers or supervisors. In a typical retail setting, the manager/supervisor has a great deal of control over the employee’s schedule. They decide what shifts the employee is working, how many hours they will be able to work, and ultimately, how much money they will be able to earn.

Oftentimes, workers feel like they need to just put up with the harassment because managers and supervisors have so much control over their financial well-being. They just endure the lewd and crude jokes and comments, and the occasional touching and groping (and sometimes worse!) for the overall betterment of themselves and their families.

In addition to the disproportionate number of low wage workers in retail, there are a couple other major reasons why sexual harassment is rampant in the industry:

Decentralized Workplaces

By its very nature, the retail industry is decentralized. The stores where most of the employees work tend to be located a significant distance from any corporate office. This means that officials in the corporate office have no regular face-to-face interaction with front-line employees and immediate managers and supervisors. They may visit the stores from time to time, but essentially, the store manager is in charge on a day-to-day basis. This type of absolute authority with no accountability makes it easier for perpetrators get away with workplace harassment.

Unclear Reporting Policies

Another common problem in the retail industry is ambiguity over who to report a sexual harassment claim to and how it is handled once you report it. For larger chain stores, the process may involve calling a designated phone number and reporting harassment to someone in corporate office or HR Department. But what happens to the information from there? How seriously do they take your complaint? What is their investigation process?

As bad as that sounds, it may be even worse in a smaller store where one or two people are in charge, and they are the ones you are supposed to report harassment to. What if one of them is the perpetrator? How can you ever expect to be treated fairly in a situation like that? In many cases, employees decide to live with the harassment rather than initiating a highly uncertain claims process.

Standing up to Workplace Harassment

If you have been sexually harassed as a retail industry worker or as a worker in any other industry, you do not have to quietly put up with it. You have legal rights, and you may be able to recover compensation and obtain other forms of relief for your situation. The best place to start is to speak with an experienced civil rights attorney.

For almost a decade and a half, attorney Kira Fonteneau has stood up for the working people of Alabama. Kira was recently recognized for her work in this area by being appointed president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. She can meet with you to discuss your case and advise you of your legal options.

For a confidential consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also send us a message through our web contact form.

Sexual Harassment Part 2: Sexual Harassment in the Hospitality Industry

Last time, we talked about sexual harassment in the medical field and the dire need for reforms to give female health professionals a safer work environment. This time, we turn our attention to another industry that is in badly need of reform; the food and beverage/hospitality industry. For as long as there have been bars, restaurants, hotels, and resorts, owners of many of these businesses have used a sexual undertone to attract customers.

Discriminatory hiring practices are rampant in this industry. For example, how many male waiters or female waitresses over the age of 40 does Hooters hire? Hooters is not alone, however. These same preferences are used openly by casinos in Nevada, Atlantic City, and on reservations when they are considering who to hire as cocktail waitresses to serve drinks to their patrons. So, given the atmosphere in many establishments that serve food and drinks, it comes as no surprise that sexual harassment has become ingrained into the culture.

How bad is the problem? According to the Harvard Business Review, more sexual harassment claims in the United States are filed by hospitality industry workers than by workers of any other industry. It is estimated that as many as 90% of women and 70% of men who work in this industry have reported experiencing sexual harassment.

While the #MeToo movement has helped shine the spotlight on the widespread sexual harassment and assault among members of the media, movie industry, politicians, and other high-profile professions, very little attention has been given to the issues hospitality workers routinely have to deal with.

USA Today offers some additional insights into why sexual harassment seems to be more accepted in the food and drink industry:

  • Men still rule the roost: While there are more female owners and managers in the bar and restaurant industry than ever before, the industry is still dominated by men. Owners, chefs, and managers often have absolute power, and this tends to feed their egos and make them believe they can get away with anything.
  • Sex is often part of the marketing plan: As mentioned earlier, many bars and restaurants build their entire business model around selling sex. This means that those on the frontline, especially female bartenders and waitresses, are expected to give the customers what they want. And since bartenders and waitresses depend largely on tips for a living, they feel enormous pressure to oblige.
  • Fast-paced environments: Restaurants are high-pressure environments, especially during busy times. With everyone rushing around to serve the customers, many snarky and inappropriate comments are made in the heat of the moment.
  • Work done in close quarters: Bartenders, waiters, waitresses, bus boys, dishwashers, chefs, and cleaning staff often work together in very tight and enclosed areas. This makes it more tempting for workers to engage in inappropriate behavior.
  • Disproportionate number of young workers: The hospitality industry tends to hire most of its staff from the 16 to 34 age group. For many workers, this is their first job, and they may not have a clear understanding about what types of behavior are appropriate, and what crosses the line.

Another issue that makes sexual harassment such a widespread problem within the hospitality industry is that, like in the medical field, workers are often harassed by customers. In fact, customer-based harassment accounts for a large percentage of sexual harassment claims in the industry.

What Can be Done About Sexual Harassment in the Hospitality Industry?

There are many steps that need to be taken in the food and beverage industry to effectively address the problem of sexual harassment. Here are a few of the most important:

  • Create strict anti-sexual harassment policies: It all starts with making absolutely clear to all who work at the establishment that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. If an employee believes that the company doesn’t care about it, tolerates it, or ignores it, they are much more likely to engage in inappropriate behavior. Bars, restaurants, and other establishments in the hospitality industry need to make a commitment to create a safe work environment for everyone.
  • Implement more effective reporting procedures: Having a good policy on paper is a start, but it does little good if there is not an effective way for an employee to report harassment. For example, if you are supposed to report harassment to your manager, and the manager is the one who harassed you, your complaint is not likely to get too far. There should be a separate department, perhaps online or through human resources, where an employee can safely report harassment and know that their complaint is being investigated.
  • Give all managers and workers comprehensive sexual harassment training: Everyone in the company needs to be fully trained on the sexual harassment policy, and what constitutes inappropriate behavior. There should also be training on how to effectively intervene when someone witnesses harassment, so the situation can be diffused.
  • Implement policies to protect employees from customer-based sexual harassment: Finally, restaurants and bars need to be fully committed to protecting their employees from being harassed by customers. For example, if an employee is uncomfortable serving a patron after they have made inappropriate remarks and/or advancements, they should have the right to stop serving that person. The establishment should also have a policy in which they warn customers who behave inappropriately, and if they do not comply, ask them to leave.

Harassed in the Workplace? Contact Our Experienced Alabama Employment Lawyer

If you have experienced sexual harassment as a hospitality industry worker or a worker in any other industry, it is important to speak with a skilled attorney, so you fully understand your legal rights and options. Attorney Kira Fonteneau has over 13 years of experience aggressively advocating for working people in Alabama. Kira was recently appointed president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, and she has a successful track record obtaining justice for those whose civil rights have been violated in the workplace.  For a consultation with attorney Fonteneau, call our office today at 205-564-9005. You may also send us a message through our online contact form.