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When customers sexually harass workers, employers need to act

Ask any waitress who has ever labored in an Alabama diner about the perils of on-the-job sexual harassment and you will likely get a laundry list of incidents that were perpetrated by managers and co-workers. The hard-working wait staff at restaurants frequently have to put up with unwanted comments about their appearance and — even worse — fend off roaming hands as they carry trays laden with diners’ meals.

But one example of sexual harassment to which many in the service industry are routinely exposed comes from the customers they serve. Many waitresses and bartenders put up with near-constant streams of sexual innuendo and unwanted touches simply to earn a living. Because it comes from their customers and not their managers, they might feel like they are without options.

On-the-job sexual harassment is illegal from all sources

Astonishingly, one study noted that a whopping 78% of those who worked as wait staff and bartenders have been sexually harassed at least once by a customer. This is particularly insidious, as the service industry is based on tips rather than earned wages. These workers know that they must cater to their customers in order to earn a living wage. If they snap back or slap a wandering hand, their profits for the night can walk right out the door.

Management should protect its staff

If your manager or the business owner allows a pervasive climate of sexual harassment of the bartenders and wait staff by their customers, you need to understand the legal options that you have to fight on-the-job sexual harassment.

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