It is important that everyone in the restaurant and hospitality industry—from dishwashers to servers to cooks—knows their rights when it comes to reporting sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.
For more information, please see the following resources compiled by our staff. We’ll be updating this list, and encourage you to look for additional information in our Professional and Impact newsletters.
Defining Sexual Harassment
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment in the workplace is defined as follows: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
Federal, State, and Local Laws
Sexual harassment is forbidden under federal, state and local laws. While federal law applies nationwide, applicable state or local laws may afford you additional or different rights. These laws also protect you from retaliation for making a good faith complaint of sexual harassment.
If you have 15 or more employees, please familiarize yourself with all the federal laws, rules and regulations related to sexual assault and harassment and discrimination in the workplace at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. State and local resources are available for businesses and organizations with fewer than 15 employees.
If you believe that you have been harassed or abused, the first thing you should do is to determine if your employer has a sexual harassment policy, which would generally be contained in an employment manual or handbook. The policy will direct you what steps you should take to bring the issue to management’s attention. In general, such policies require that you communicate to the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome (unless you are uncomfortable doing so) and immediately inform a manager, the human resources department or the equal employment opportunity officer as to what occurred. Be aware that if you have experienced or witnessed harassing or abusive conduct and you do not raise the issue with your employer or if your employer has a policy and you fail to follow it, you may be forfeiting certain rights.
Harassment in the Restaurant Industry
"We stand by restaurant workers, owners, and consumers and respect their dignity, human rights, and contributions to our industry and our nation – including immigrants, refugees, people of all genders, faiths, races, abilities, and sexual orientations. We have zero tolerance for sexism, racism, and xenophobia."—ROC United/Sanctuary Restaurants
ROC United is a go-to resource on sexual harassment, and they have created a resource guide for employees.
National Hotlines and Legal Resources
There are many resources available for both employees and employers, including these complied from major news sources:
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Equal Rights Advocates
24-hour line: 415-621-0505
National Bar Association, Women Lawyers Division
U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau
Also check for state and local government or Human Rights Commissions websites.
Sexual Abuse and Rape
Every 98 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault. Sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. For immediate counseling and advice, please call 1-800-656-HOPE, the national sexual assault counseling service, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also access the hotline online at www.rainn.org. All counseling is confidential and you will be directed to a trained counselor with expert knowledge on the laws in your state.
For information on the legal definition of rape and the statute of limitation for a particular sex crime, where you live makes a difference. Here's a guide to the laws in your state.
News and Resources
We recommend bookmarking the New York Times’s live update feed, including breaking news, commentary, and opinion pieces about sexual harassment.
If you would like to learn more about sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, please check out this study by ROC United.
Disclaimer: This information is provided for informational purposes and nothing contained herein is intended for nor shall it be construed as legal advice. This information is not provided as a substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your state.