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Even though sexual harassment accusations are popping up everywhere from government to media these days, the restaurant industry has long been a place where sexual harassment has been embedded in the culture.

In 2014, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United dropped a report which found that nearly 80% of women and 70% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from co-workers. Jen Agg, who runs multiple restaurants in Toronto, told Restaurant Insider in a separate article that “everything in the social construct of restaurants is designed for the comfort of men, which means even if you’re not being physically or sexually harassed, there’s a good chance you’ll have to laugh along with rape jokes or be seen as ‘uptight.’”

Nearly 80% of women and 70% of men experienced some form of sexual harassment from co-workers.Click To Tweet

But as employers begin to cut ties with men accused of inappropriate behavior across industries, the tiniest ripple of change seems to be swelling. Perhaps it’s also time to begin to bring those seeds of change into the restaurant industry.

Know Your Rights

One of the first steps towards that change is an empowered workforce that knows what the restaurant labor laws (and their rights) are when it comes to sexual harassment in restaurants.

Restaurant workers are protected, like all employees in the United States, at the highest level by the laws that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces. When it comes to sexual harassment specifically, the EEOC states that “it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex,” and goes on to explain that sexual harassment includes everything from unwanted advances to physical harassment. The EEOC also makes it clear that the harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature, just based on a person’s sex—making disparaging comments about women, in general, can be used to sexually harass an individual woman, for example. If you’ve been or are being harassed, use this tool to find the EEOC office that presides over your area.

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Create (and Enforce) Good Policies

While the EEOC has the big picture stuff covered, everyone knows that bureaucracy can lead to slow or even ineffective enforcement, which means that strong policies at individual restaurants are essential in creating a safe and fair workplace.

As All Food Business explains, your restaurant’s sexual harassment policy should not only make it clear that sexual harassment is illegal, but it should also explain exactly what constitutes it and how it will be dealt with in your establishment. It’s important to reassure your employees that any allegations will be handled with confidentiality in order to diminish fear of retaliation. The policy should also include telephone numbers and websites for external resources and government agencies that handle sexual harassment and it should be handed out, in writing, to all of your employees.

It often goes without saying, but employees will follow the examples of management and ownership. It’s essential that the higher ups not only lead by example but that they enforce the policy on even the smallest levels. No matter how great your policy is, it’s useless if it isn’t enforced equally across the board.

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Cinnamon hails from the prairie lands of North Dakota, has been told that she thinks too much, and possesses an enthusiasm for enthusiasm. In a previous life, she paid the bills by serving and bartending throughout college and graduate school. She currently splits her time between Minneapolis and Latin America with her dog, Gus, at her side.