While there is no specific statute expressly defining sexual harassment in Ohio, the term has been sufficiently extrapolated over the years in hundreds of case law opinions, each addressing the various ways in which sexual harassment can rear its ugly head.
In general, sexual harassment is considered repeated, pervasive and/or severe conduct (i.e., a workplace culture) of unwanted sexual advances, course joking, perverse and explicit sexual discussions, inappropriate emails, or the implied suggestion that sexual harassment must be tolerated in order to maintain a positive employment status.
In the context of the hospitality industry, sexual harassment appears to not only be more pervasive, but more accepted by employees and management alike. Unfortunately, workplaces including bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels are frequently infused with a sexual ambiance, perhaps helping to advance the notion that unwanted sexual attention in these industries is acceptable – especially in places where staff members are required to adhere to certain dress and appearance standards.
Equal and respectful treatment of employees in any industry, regardless of that industry’s reputation, dress code, or prior accepted standards, should be expected and demanded. Any hospitality industry employee who has experienced such harassment is encouraged to seek legal guidance as soon as possible.
Sexual Harassment Deemed ‘More Acceptable’ Amongst Hospitality Employees
According to a study published in Advances in Hospitality and Tourism Research, a staggering 80.6 percent of females and 64.1 percent of males employed in the restaurant industry perceive sexual harassment to be more accepted in their industry than any other industry.
Likewise, 61 percent of respondents felt sexual harassment occurred more often in bars and restaurants than in other industries, while close to one-third of those surveyed were never informed of their employer’s sexual harassment policy.
In another study published by Gender, Work & Organization, researchers interviewed several dozen housekeeping employees at a five-star resort in Australia. Alarmingly, 96 percent of those interviewed reported some sort of harassing behavior perpetrated by hotel guests, ranging from inappropriate joking to assault. In a separate study published in Time magazine, a large majority of restaurant and bar employees reported inappropriate touching and/or interactions with their customers. What’s more, female restaurant employees making $2.13 per hour reported instances of customer sexual harassment twice as often as those earning at least minimum wage.
Options for Employees Experiencing Sexual Harassment
Let the offender know you find his or her behavior offensive. In many cases, this will cease the behavior. If it doesn’t end the behavior, bring the situation to the attention of your immediate supervisor, unless your immediate supervisor is your offender, then you should bring it up to your immediate supervisor’s boss.
Review your workplace sexual harassment policy (if one exists).
This policy should contain information relating to reporting procedures and expectations of both the harassment victim and management when harassment has occurred.
File an Administrative Charge
If you cannot resolve your situation directly with your employer, it is recommended you file an administrative charge with the appropriate governmental agency, which is usually the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s civil rights enforcement or human rights agency. They will investigate the claim and attempt to negotiate and resolve the situation with your employer. If the agency can’t resolve your claim but decides it’s a valid claim, they will issue you a “right to sue” letter, meaning you may bring your case to court.
If the agency sends you a “right to sue” letter, you may bring a civil lawsuit for any damages or injuries suffered from the sexual harassment. You may receive the following remedies if your lawsuit is successful:
- Fringe benefits lost
- Back pay
- Damages for emotional distress
- Attorney’s fees and court costs
Contact an Attorney Today
If you are a member of the hospitality industry and believe your co-workers, boss, or customers may be crossing the line, let one of our sexual harassment lawyers help. To set up a consultation, please call (513) 318-1217.