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What recourse do service industry employees have against harassment?

Despite the emergence of the #MeToo movement, workplace harassment remains an ongoing issue. Unfortunately, those in the service industry working for tips may experience it first-hand more often than many other professions. It may involve behavior by managers, coworkers, or customers.

One recent example involves a bartender who quit after five days on the job, alleging that the supervisor of a restaurant 75 miles west of Tallahassee made inappropriate comments about breast size, groped her, and encouraged her to wear provocative clothes. When the bartender complained after three days, she was moved to waiting tables before quitting. A Florida court subsequently awarded the bartender $70,252.

Regardless of who does it, harassment can be a criminal activity, particularly if there is a threat of violence. The perpetrators’ behavior may also be a matter for the civil courts and a cash award.

Common examples of criminal harassment

Criminal harassment often targets a specific person, but it could be one or more actions.

  • It is behavior that intends to alarm, annoy, terrorize, or torment.
  • It creates a reasonable fear of the victim’s safety, the safety of their family, or their property (car, home, or other possessions).
  • It can be stalking where there are instances of following a person, sending unwanted texts, calling the victim, tracking their movements electronically, or showing up at their place of work.

Common examples of sexual harassment

Sometimes sexual harassment may involve criminal behavior. Still, like the above example, it often involves inappropriate behavior addressed by a civil suit. Typical behavior includes:

  • Inappropriate touching or sexual gestures
  • Sexualized comments about appearance
  • Requests for dates
  • Sending suggestive texts, notes or emails
  • Sharing inappropriate photos or videos that are sexual

Other types of harassment

There are other types of behavior that are inappropriate but not sexual. It can involve inappropriate comments about race, religious beliefs, or unflattering nicknames. It can be clothing with messages construed as offensive.

Addressing the problem

Victims can feel that they have no recourse in dealing with harmful interactions. If management is not the problem, the first step can be to notify management that the behavior is happening. They are legally obligated to provide a safe workplace free of all types of harassment. Suppose they act on the complaint, but the victim still faces the behavior. In that case, the victims can file a harassment claim with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — they will need evidence of the behavior, including the offender’s refusal to stop. It is helpful to make detailed notes involving the behavior and when it occurred.

The victim can also file a lawsuit against the employer, as the bartender did, for acting inappropriately and failing to maintain a safe workplace.

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