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How “tip culture” leads to sexual harassment for servers

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2022 | Harassment & discrimination

There’s been a slowly rising outcry over an aspect of American life that negatively affects numerous workers in all kinds of service industries: tip culture. In the restaurant industry, in particular, employers can pay their servers very little and allow them to make up the rest of their wages in tips.

That puts a lot of power in the hands of the customers. No matter how well a server does their job, a customer can leave them a paltry tip – or none at all – if they’re in the slightest way displeased.

As a result, a significant number of customers take advantage of the situation to sexually harass their servers – and many servers feel like they have no choice but to “grin and bear it.”

How bad is the problem?

It’s pretty bad. Over 70% of female restaurant servers report being sexually harassed, and 50% say that they get harassed weekly. Even more significantly, while only 7% of women work in the restaurant industry, they file 14% of all sexual harassment claims. While that’s troubling enough, it’s even worse when you consider the number of incidents that never get reported.

Whose responsibility is it when a customer misbehaves?

Far too often, employers turn a blind eye to their ill-behaved customers – especially when they’re regulars or they’re spending a lot of money. They may even tell a server that there’s “nothing they can do” to make a customer behave appropriately.

That’s not true. Employers can refuse service to any customer who fails to respect a server’s boundaries. They can make it clear that anybody who crosses a line by groping, grabbing or making sexual comments to a server is unwelcome. They could also simply do away with tip culture and pay their employees a living wage – which would eliminate the power imbalance servers often face.

If you’re a restaurant worker who has experienced sexual harassment on the job and your employer won’t step up, it may be time to find out more about your legal options.