Studies have consistently shown that restaurant workers face among the highest rates of sexual harassment. Those who work as servers risk sexual harassment from managers/bosses as well as from customers.
There may be many reasons for the greater prevalence of harassment in food service, including the fact that servers are disproportionately female. And many observers believe that a common American practice is giving customers license to harass and forcing servers to accept harassment: tipping.
California is one of just seven states where tipped employees must be paid at least the state's minimum wage before tips. In many other states, waitresses, bartenders and other tipped workers may earn as little as $2.13 per hour as long as their tips bring their pay up to minimum wage. To get those tips, workers often find that they have to put up with lewd comments, unwelcome touching and propositions for dates and sex.
For a recent New York Times article, more than 60 servers and bartenders were interviewed about their horror stories. Most said that they stay silent about sexual harassment because they rely on tips to make ends meet. When they do report customer behavior to management, managers are unreliable about taking corrective action.
Even in a full-minimum-wage state like California, the practice of tipping still creates a power imbalance that can be problematic. That's why some restaurants are experimenting with no-tip policies. They are attempting to spur a culture change that allows for mutual respect among servers and customers.
Tipping may be a practice that needs to end, but bringing about such change in the United States would be very difficult. In the meantime, servers and restaurant workers need to understand their rights under the law. If you are being harassed by customers or coworkers and you report the harassment to a manager or owner, the company is legally required to take corrective action. If not, you may be able to seek compensation in a sexual harassment lawsuit.