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Why Can’t All Service Industry Workers Identify Sexual Harassment?

Service industry jobs can be very difficult. Those working in retail establishments, at nail salons and at restaurants often receive different compensation from day to day based both on their job performance and the mood or personality of the customers that they see. They may also endure mistreatment that people in other professions would report as sexual harassment.

Although most workers in service-related professions may know that they don’t have to deal with abuse from their co-workers or their supervisor, they may still struggle to identify sexual harassment when it happens to them at work. Why is it so hard for service workers to recognize sexual harassment on the job?

They think their employment makes them subject to flirtation or advances

There are some companies that literally build brands around making their employees seem accessible to patrons. These businesses may require that workers show up in revealing outfits or flirt with each patron who visits.

When a worker feels like they have to flirt to do their job or get their tips, they may not recognize when uncomfortable comments or unwanted touching crosses the line and becomes sexual harassment. They may think that such behavior is normal and acceptable. In fact, their supervisors or the person who trained them may have explicitly told them as much.

Employers should protect you from customer misconduct

Wanting to promote a certain company image or customer experience is acceptable, but forcing workers to ignore harassment or abusive behavior is not. No worker should have to worry about losing their job or their income if they don’t tolerate sexual harassment on the job.

Sadly, when service industry workers tell supervisors about customer misconduct, they often don’t get the support they deserve. Whether the supervisor asks those customers to leave or has someone else take over serving them, there should be an effort to remove you from a hostile situation.

Some workers will face reprimands, worse schedules or outright termination for speaking up about sexual harassment at a service job. Those punished for speaking up and those struggling without employer support may have grounds for a sexual harassment claim. Holding an employer accountable for workplace sexual harassment can compensate you for what you have endured and potentially prompt them to change how they treat workers in the future.