Should waitresses expect to be harassed on the job?

If you're an Indianapolis waitress, you work hard for your tips. You realize that the paltry hourly wage you're paid will never pay the bills. You need to remain fast on your feet, have a keen memory for orders and regulars' favorites and a ready smile for all you serve in order to make ends meet.

But there's another, darker side to restaurant work that few realize — the endemic problem of sexual harassment on the job. One survey done in 2014 studied nearly 700 restaurant workers. Of that total, 80 percent reported that they had experienced on-the-job sexual harassment from their customers. Another two-thirds had been harassed by their managers and 50 percent by co-workers.

One article published in The Guardian quoted a 34-year-old waitress in a Mexican restaurant in the Midwest. She said, "When you are hired as a waitress, it might as well be a part of the manual. You will be sexually harassed. You are relying on this person for your wage, so you can't say anything. It can be scary. You're so vulnerable."

The woman recalled a young friend of hers who worked as a barista. One of the coffee shop's regulars killed her. The waitress claimed it was common to attract stalkers. She also admitted that her tips trended upward on days she wore makeup and dressed well.

When you are dependent upon your customers for good tips, your manager for lucrative shifts and your co-workers for cooperation, it can leave you vulnerable to the type of quid pro quo relationships in which sexual harassment breeds and thrives.

It's important to understand that you have rights. Should you decide to take action and file a claim of sexual harassment, it's prudent to learn all you can about your rights and responsibilities under Indiana and federal laws.

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