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  • “I Am Not On The Menu” – Sexual Harassment In The Restaurant Industry

    By Henry Yampolsky, Esq.

    Recently, ROC United, a nationwide organization which advocates on behalf of restaurant workers, released a scathing report which highlights one of the dirtiest secrets in the restaurant industry.  According to ROC, sexual harassment is widespread across the restaurant industry with women tipped workers, who earn a meager $2.13 per hour, being especially vulnerable.  Indeed, four out of five women in the restaurant industry have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

    The restaurant industry is the single largest source of sexual harassment claims in the United States, accounting for more than one-third of all such claims investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Because tipped workers must please customers and management to earn a living, many fear reporting inappropriate sexual behavior.  Indeed, too often, management discourages these workers from reporting such conduct.

    Sexual harassment is “unwelcomed . . . verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature . . .” It comes in many forms.  For example, if a manager or supervisor change your terms or conditions of employment because you rejected their sexual advances, that is illegal!

    Another form of sexual harassment is called “hostile work environment”.  Hostile work environment is unwelcomed physical or verbal conduct that is so severe and pervasive that it changes the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.  Supervisor, co-workers and even customers can be the source of a hostile work environment.

    All forms of sexual harassment are prevalent in the restaurant industry.  And, because the industry employs a highly vulnerable work force, consisting of a large number of individuals who are just starting their careers; are working part-time; or are either documented or undocumented immigrants; we have the following suggestions. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts to take yourself off the menu:

    Do:

    • Familiarize yourself with your employer’s sexual harassment and employment discrimination policies;
    • Politely, firmly and clearly rebuke any unwelcome sexual advances;
    • Immediately report inappropriate comments or behavior, whether by co-workers, customers or management, to the human resources department or up the chain of command.  The law provides protections against retaliation;
    • If possible, communicate with management in writing;
    • Maintain copies of all electronic communications, like emails;
    • Keep a detailed diary of all interactions that relate to the inappropriate conduct; and
    • Contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your situation.

    Don’t

    • Wait to report instances of sexual harassment (the law provides only a limited time to file a claim);
    • Post any materials, commentary or information about the harassment and/or about your employer on any social media site, like Facebook;
    • Record or videotape any conversations without the express consent of all participants;
    • Go along with the inappropriate conduct.

    Philadelphia personal injury attorneys at Galfand Berger, LLP collaborate closely with ROC United and other workers’ rights organizations and are experienced in handling highly sensitive and complex employment discrimination issues.  If you believe you were discriminated against at work, call 1-800-222-8792 for a confidential consultation with one of our employment discrimination attorneys or contact us online.

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