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Sexual Harassment Going Strong for Food Servers

One Fair Wage, part of the University of California’s Food Labor Research Center, issued a report detailing the ongoing sexual harassment experienced by food servers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization asked approximately 1,675 workers about their experiences since returning to work as some restaurants reopened across the country. They asked workers in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. Half of the responding workers indicated at least one or more of their co-workers had contracted COVID as of November 2020. These food industry workers also reported declines in their tips during the same time period, sometimes in direct correlation to worker requests that customers wear a mask.

According to One Fair Wage’s study, 41% of the workers noticed a definite uptick in the amount of unwanted sexual comments from customers; 25% reported a big change in the frequency of sexual harassment. Most of the comments reportedly came from male customers toward female food servers. Examples of offensive comments provided to the organization included: “Pull that mask down so I can see if I want to take you home later”; “Take off your mask so I can stick my tongue down your throat”; “I can’t ever imagine myself social distancing from your sexy a**”; and “Oh, social distancing, so I can’t touch you anymore, huh?” Others shared general comments from customers telling them to take off their masks so the customers could judge their looks. These female workers shared their discomfort at confronting the customers given their need for tips and their real fear of jeopardizing their jobs. Nearly 1 in 4 restaurant workers lost their jobs in just the first wave of the pandemic.