With more than 11 million employees, the restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors in the country. It is also the single-largest source of sexual-harassment charges filed by women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Women occupy most of the financially precarious restaurant jobs; more than 70% of servers are women, and more than 60% of all tipped occupations are filled by women.
Due to the two-tiered wage system that allows restaurant employers to pay as little as $2.13 an hour (the federal tipped minimum wage since 1991) to tipped workers, and the overwhelming lack of enforcement and compliance ensuring that employers pay workers the full minimum wage when tips fall short, women in tipped occupations often make a living entirely off tips. Absent a stable base wage from their employers, tipped workers are forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers on whose tips they depend to feed their families, and from co-workers and management who often influence shifts and hours. However, a majority of all restaurant workers report experiencing sexual harassment.
By looking at the rate and types of sexual harassment experienced by current and former restaurant workers through national surveys and rigorous analysis, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Forward Together provide the most accurate picture to date of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry in The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry.
Key findings include:
- Over half of the women that report experiencing sexual harassment experience it on at least a weekly basis.
- Women living off tips in states with a $2.13 an hour tipped minimum wage are twice as likely to experience sexually harassment than women in states that pay the full minimum wage to all workers. In fact, all workers in $2.13 states, including men, reported higher rates of sexual harassment, indicating that the sub-minimum wage perpetuates a culture of sexual harassment.
- Ninety -percent of women surveyed report being bothered by customer harassment, a rate twice higher than that experienced by men. Women are also the most likely to be told by management to sexualize their behavior and/or appearance when dealing with customers, a demand that female tipped workers in states with a $2.13 subminimum wage are three times as likely to experience than women in states without a subminimum wage.
- Two-thirds of women and half of men surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment directed at them from a restaurant owner, manager, or supervisor, indicating that management is generally not invested in regulating — and may even encourage — the sexualized culture of the restaurant workplace.
- A significant majority of women workers felt they would experience negative consequences, including job termination if they tried to report sexual harassment from management and customers. As a result of pressure to remain silent about experiencing harassment, many restaurant workers reported deterioration in their emotional well-being, including increased depression and anxiety.
- Women who had previously worked as tipped workers were more than one-and-a-half times as likely to live with harassing behaviors in the workplace as the women who were currently employed as tipped workers.
- “Today, in one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors in the country, being subjected to constant forms of sexual harassment has practically become a requirement of employment,” said Saru Jayaraman. “The culture of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry isn’t an accident. We can point directly to the subminimum wage and the fact that the majority of people living off tips are women and their take-home pay is inextricably linked to enduring vile behavior from customers, co-workers, and bosses. Countless young women are introduced to the world of work through the restaurant industry and they go on to be more likely to accept forms of sexual harassment as ‘just part of the job.’”