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Is your employer responsible for third-party sexual harassment?

On Behalf of | Jun 7, 2024 | Sexual Harassment

The customer service industry – particularly the restaurant industry, where so many workers rely on tips and companies sometimes operate on razor-thin margins – has a problem with sexual harassment. 

It’s estimated that 90% of female workers and 70% of male workers in the industry experience sexual harassment in one form or another – and it often comes from customers, not co-workers or bosses.

Employers are supposed to provide safe workplaces

Some customers seem to feel that their tips buy them liberties with their servers, and employers are broadly required to protect their workers from that kind of harassment. Sexual harassment from customers often takes the form of:

  • Inappropriate touching: Some restaurants purposefully require servers to wear revealing clothing, and customers who are so inclined may take that as an invitation to put their hands on the server’s body.
  • Unwanted advances: It’s a server’s job to be friendly with all their customers, but some customers mistake professional pleasantries for flirtation and romantic interest. They may repeatedly make advances on a server who attracts their attention.
  • Threats or coercion: Some customers know exactly what they’re doing when they harass a customer, and they make it clear that a server’s willingness to “play along” will determine their tip. Or, they may threaten to complain to management if a server isn’t “nice enough” and take their business elsewhere.
  • Inappropriate comments: Whether it’s comments about a server’s breasts or jokes about sexual things that they’d like to do with a server, customers can create a truly toxic work environment – especially if the restaurant’s management doesn’t intercede.

If you’re a server in a restaurant who has experienced sexual harassment, you have every right to expect your employer to put a stop to things and give you protection. If you find yourself being told to just tolerate the abuse and smile through it or your employer is otherwise unwilling to take a stand, you may have a right to take legal action.