Sexual harassment in the restaurant industry

Posted in Sexual Harassment,Sexual Harassment by Industry on October 21, 2015

Although sexual harassment can and does exist in nearly all industries, it seems to be especially pervasive in food service. Statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show that the largest percentage of sexual harassment complaints filed with the agency come from the restaurant industry.

It is easy to understand why workers in “the front of the house” (hostesses, servers, bartenders) would be at risk for sexual harassment. These jobs are predominantly filled by women, and they interact with both customers and other staff members in an environment which often involves alcohol consumption. But workers in the kitchen – especially women – are also at risk of being sexually harassed. And sadly, few are willing to report the behavior for fear of being blacklisted in the culinary community.

This was the subject of a recent published in the New York Times. The author, a restaurateur named Jen Agg, notes that the kitchens in high-end restaurants tend to have a strict hierarchical structure, often headed by male chefs. Some of these chefs feel that their position gives them the right to berate other staff members and sexually harass employees working under them – often women but sometimes other men as well.

Theoretically, kitchen staff employees can file complaints just as easily as those who work in the front of the house. But many women in these positions are trying to establish themselves as chefs, and are afraid to complain for fear of being labeled a “whiner” or a “troublemaker.” Those who do speak up are often told that they “just can’t cut it” in the restaurant industry.

To be sure, not all restaurants have this kind of culture – nor are women the only victims of sexual harassment. As we have previously written, sexual harassment is about asserting power, and it can be perpetrated by either gender against either gender.

But whether it gets reported or not, sexual harassment is toxic to workplace morale, employee unity and productivity. Moreover, restaurant owners/managers that tolerate or condone such behavior can and should be held liable in a sexual harassment lawsuit.