Servers face sexual harassment

Restaurant statistics

For people who make $2.13 per hour plus tips, customer service is likely their No. 1 priority.

Servers say they depend on patrons to pay their checks, but customers often expect them to deal with unwanted sexual harassment.

A survey of 668 current tipped wage employees from 39 states reported 78 percent of workers said they were sexually harassed by customers, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United Forward Together.

“You have to put up with it for the tip,” said senior Amber Bockus. “Management doesn’t normally need to get involved. I usually handle it myself.”

Bockus, who has worked as a server in various local restaurants since high school, said lewd comments, marriage proposals and inappropriate gestures have been part of her employment.

“They will say things like how much can I pay you to go back to the hotel with me?” she said.

States like Alabama where the minimum wage for servers falls well below the minimum wage for other employees reported higher levels of sexual harassment, according to the ROC study.

The researchers reported the overall restaurant work environment is at least partially shaped by the sub-minimum wage system itself.

Sexual harassment of employees is a situation employers must proactively deal with, said Josh Waddell, manager at Buffalo Wild Wings.

“We do pretty well,” Waddell said. “We’ve never really had a problem with that.”

He said situations, when they do arise, are handled on a case-by-case basis.

“Depending on the situation, if law enforcement needed to be involved we would certainly do that,” he said. “But, if it was just a comment or something, we would ask the customer to leave.”

He also said sexual harassment is more common toward female servers.

Fifty percent of women and 47 percent of men reported experiencing ‘scary’ or ‘unwanted’ sexual behavior, and 30 percent of women and 22 percent of men reported they were touched inappropriately at work on a regular basis, according to the study.

Junior Jensen Joiner said he has faced sexual harassment on the job.

Sixty percent of women and transgender workers reported sexual harassment was an uncomfortable aspect of work life, while 46 percent of men agreed, according to the ROC study.

Joiner, who has worked as a server more than a year, said alcohol typically induces more sexual harassment.

“I have a birthmark that looks like a hickey,” Joiner said. “This woman who comes in (the restaurant) all the time said she could give me another one.”

He said he deals with different situations in different ways.

“If they are older I laugh it off,” he said.

The ROC study also showed 80 percent of restaurant employees reported harassment from coworkers.

Bockus said she has been harassed by males who worked with her in the past.

“The cooking crew is mostly men and they have done things, but it’s different because we know them and just tell them to stop.”