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.