The global health crisis has reduced physical proximity in the workplace over the past year. Even so, some sectors of the economy, such as health care, retail and food service industries, have experienced an increase in unwanted sexualized comments from customers and incidents of hostile behaviors from customers who are reacting to an establishment’s enforcement of remote working protocols.
A study from One Fair Wage reported that 41% of restaurant workers have seen a noticeable change in sexual comments from customers, with 25% reporting a significant change in the frequency of sexual harassment of employees. And 78% reported either having seen or experienced hostile behavior from customers as a response to the enforcement of protocols such as social distancing and the requirement of masks in the establishment.
In addition to hostile or overtly sexual harassment, many restaurant workers have reported a dramatic decrease in tips associated with the enforcement of health protocols in the establishment.
Protections against sexual harassment
There are federal protections in place against sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These protections may be applied to businesses employing 15 or more employees as well as to government and labor organizations.
Sexual harassment is expressed under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) when:
- the offensive conduct is unwelcome
- the victim is either male or female and not necessarily of the opposite sex from the harasser
- the harasser is a direct superior, a supervisor from another department a vendor or customer or an agent of the employer
- the victim has not been directly harassed but witnessed the offensive behavior
- economic injury or dismissal does not have to be the punitive result of harassment
Many state laws also provide protections against sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct under fair employment practices law.
Simply put, workplace discrimination is illegal, both in the United States and in Oregon. If you feel that you have been denied promotions, unfairly compensated, or otherwise subjected to unwanted or unsolicited advances, it is important to find an experienced employment law attorney who will advocate for your rights and protections under federal and state law.