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The link between minimum wage and restaurant sexual harassment

Posted on August 24, 2018

One of the outgrowths of the #MeToo movement is the spotlight it’s placed on the high rate of sexual harassment suffered by restaurant workers. They can be the victims of not only harassment but abuse and assault by co-workers, managers and customers.

Most of these victims are women. About half of all women in this country are employed in the restaurant industry at one time or another.

Advocates for restaurant employees point out that the level of sexual harassment is linked to the fact that many of them can’t get by solely on their wages, so they rely on customer tips. About 70 percent of tipped workers are female.

The head of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) reminds people, “This is not about sex, this is about power. When you shift the power balance…sexual harassment gets cut in half.” The problem is that in many states, workers who are able to receive tips from customers don’t have to be paid that state’s minimum wage. However, in states where they are paid this minimum wage regardless of what they make in tips, there are just half as many reports of sexual harassment.

Unfortunately, Arizona is one of the states where people who work in restaurants and bars don’t have to be paid the minimum wage. Nearly a year ago, an Arizona appeals court upheld that law in wage dispute case between a restaurant worker and his Phoenix-area employer. This applies even if an employee spends part of their workday performing tasks such as clearing tables where they aren’t tipped.

However, the court noted, “If the $2.13 cash wage plus the tips the employee actually received are insufficient to meet the $7.25 per hour minimum wage, then the employer must increase the cash wage to meet the minimum-wage requirement.”

Regardless of how an employee is paid, sexual harassment is never acceptable in the workplace — whether it’s from managers, colleagues, vendors or customers. Victims of sexual harassment can and should hold employers legally responsible when they participate in or allow it to occur. Arizona attorneys who are experienced in employment law can help sexual harassment victims seek justice.