Study: Sexual harassment directed at restaurant workers had massive increase during pandemic

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PEXELS / ANNA SHVETS
  • Pexels / Anna Shvets
Four in 10 food-service workers reported an increase in sexual harassment on from customers during the pandemic, according to a new study by One Fair Wage, a group advocating for better working conditions in the service industry.

Overall, 41.3% of surveyed workers said they experienced a noticeable uptick in the frequency of unwanted sexualized comments from customers during the COVID-19 crisis.



The report is based on the input from 1,675 food service workers in five states — New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania — plus Washington, DC. It was conducted online and by phone from October 20 to November 10.

To support the data, nearly 250 of the surveyed employees shared unwanted comments they received. A substantial portion were requests from male customers that female workers remove their mask so that they could judge their looks, and — implicitly — determine their tips on that basis.



“He asked me to take my mask off so they could see my face and decide how much to tip me. I kicked them out,” one response read.

While openly deciding a tip based on a server's looks is cringey on its own, workers submitted responses that were even more disturbing.

“A man cut a whole in the mouth [of his mask] and asked a coworker if she sat on his face would he get COVID?” read another.

Of the workers surveyed, only 31% could say their employer consistently follows state-mandated COVID-19 safety protocols.

Though 75% said their supervisor reinforces support when a guest or coworker needs to put on a mask, a whopping 65% reported receiving decreased tips from customers after the server enforced such protocols.

Some cities, including New York City, are allowing restaurants to implement COVID-19 surcharges to cover increased costs from PPE, cleaning protocols, and capacity restrictions. However, most restaurants aren’t actively providing PPE to workers, according to responses from the One Fair Wage survey.

A separate survey conducted by personal finance website FinanceBuzz found that 27% of Americans admitted that they’d tip less if a restaurant added a COVID-19 surcharge to their check.

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