Restaurant and hospitality employees faced -- and continue to deal with -- significant hardships since the beginnings of the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, restaurant workers accounted for more than 10 percent of all private sector employees, though on average made less than half of the average private sector salary. In a recent study, restaurant workers surveyed in New Jersey and New York reported receiving less tips and enduring more hostility and workplace challenges.
In this blog post, we’ll review common challenges restaurant workers face in the workplace and what to do if this is happening to you or a loved one.
Harassment in the Workplace
The employee rights activist organization, One Fair Wage, recently released a report detailing an increase in hostility and harassment restaurant workers have faced since the beginning of the pandemic. From enforcing mask and vaccine mandates to dealing with angry customers, 41% of restaurant employees reported a “noticeable change in the number of unwarranted sexual comments” from customers and 25% noticed a significant change in the frequency of harassment.
Harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Any of these types of harassment are a form of employment discrimination that violates several federal and state laws.
Harassment becomes unlawful when the employee is forced to endure the offensive conduct as a condition of continued employment, or when the conduct is so egregious or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. In other words, if enduring harassment is a condition of your job, your employer may be violating employment laws.
Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation or lawsuit under these laws.
Wage theft can be common in the hospitality industry because many workers rely on tip income to meet minimum wage requirements. Furthermore, restaurant workers are entitled to overtime pay but often do not receive it.
In the same study, One Fair Wage, reported that 75% of workers reported a decrease in tip income, with many saying their hourly wage plus tips was not meeting the mandated minimums. Whether it’s because of the fear of retaliation or lack of knowledge, many workers may hesitate to report this type of wage theft.
Employers have a duty to ensure their employees work in a safe, fair environment. When they fail to do so, they can be held liable for monetary damages incurred by workers.
What to Do If You Think You are a Victim of Workplace Harassment
If you are being harassed in a restaurant or any workplace, your first step should be to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If you do not feel comfortable doing so or if the harasser is a customer, you should also report the behavior to your manager or HR as soon as possible.
The employer is automatically liable for harassment by a supervisor that results in a negative employment action such as termination, failure to promote or hire, and loss of wages. Additionally, the employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control -- like customers on the premises -- if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.
The same goes for wage theft. If you believe you are not being paid fairly, you should report your concerns to your manager and HR to address the complaint.
Get Help for Difficult Workplace Conditions
If harassment does not stop or if you are suffering retaliation from reporting workplace harassment, an employment attorney may be able to help. Employment attorneys focus on protecting you from discrimination, sexual harassment, wage violations, and more.
The employment attorneys at Brandon J. Broderick, Attorney at Law, bring together our knowledge and insight to construct a strong case for our clients and maximize any future settlements. Thanks to our teamwork and extensive familiarity with both state and federal employment laws, we can take on essentially any employment law case for you. Contact us today for a free consultation.