More on tipping & its relationship to restaurant sexual harassment

Posted in Sexual Harassment,Sexual Harassment by Industry on March 2, 2016

A few months ago, we wrote about an often-overlooked contributing factor to sexual harassment in the restaurant industry: tipping. California is one of just seven states where restaurant workers must be paid the full minimum wage by their employer regardless of what they make in tips. In the remaining 43 states, workers can be paid as little as $2.13 per hour with the expectation that the rest of their pay will be made up in tips from customers.

Sexual harassment occurs in the restaurant industry five times more often than in any other industry. The practice of tipping is likely a major reason why. Rather than being paid by their employer for the work they do, servers and other restaurant workers must rely on the satisfaction and generosity of customers. This creates a power imbalance that makes certain customers more likely to harass servers and makes servers feel that they have little choice but to accept such treatment.

In defending the practice of tipping and reduced wages for tipped employees, groups like the National Restaurant Association claim that when tips do not bring employee pay up to the level of minimum wage, restaurant owners are required by law to make up the difference. That’s technically true. But according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, the violation rate among employers of tipped workers is 84 percent. That means the vast majority of restaurants do not take care to ensure that their workers are always paid at least the equivalent of minimum wage.

Proponents of tipped wages also argue that eliminating tipping would ultimately harm the restaurant industry (and tipped workers by extension). But statistics show that the opposite is true. California and the six other states with pre-tip minimum wage laws enjoy:

  • Higher job growth in the restaurant industry
  • Higher restaurant sales per capita
  • Higher rates of tipping than in states where tips are needed to make up wage gaps

To be sure, tipping alone is not to blame for high rates of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. But it certainly doesn’t help, and it often creates other economic problems for workers as well. Hopefully, in the near future, federal lawmakers will put an end to the tipped minimum wage nationwide.