Restaurant HR Best Practices: How to Deal with Harassment Claims

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances both verbal and physical. Harassment can come from customers, co-workers, supervisors, and managers. Sexual harassment is a major problem in the restaurant industry as it accounts for more than a third of all sexual harassment claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC.

The restaurant industry currently employs nearly 11 million workers and is considered one of the fastest growing industries in the United States economy. However, at such a low starting salary, restaurant employees often rely heavily on customers for the remainder of their wages through tips to earn a living. This often leads to restaurant employees tolerating unwanted behavior or harassment for their tips.

Unfortunately, a restaurant’s environment often encourages employees to tell stories, make comments and jokes with others, which can often be taken in the wrong way such as an insult or a come on.

A recent study found just how wide spread sexual harassment is in the restaurant industry, 66% of reported incidents coming from management, 80% coming from co-workers and 78% coming from customers. Further, the study found that women living off tips in the United States are actually twice as likely to experience sexual harassment and 60% of women working in the restaurant industry have experienced sexual harassment. 50% of male employees have said they too experience sexual harassment from managers, while a staggering 90% of females have experienced harassment from customers.

Often, employees do not feel comfortable or safe discussing the situation or fear it will worsen if mentioned. Due to this 63% of victims said they ignore the situation when customers harass them.

Harassment in restaurants has become so normalized it is rare for anyone to take a stand against the problem. Restaurant owners must face the issue head on. A zero tolerance policy should be enacted to avoid any potential problems down the road. While many restaurants have policies regarding harassment, many do not follow or implement the policies stated causing sexual harassment to become part of the regular work routine.