Restaurant workers are reporting a spike in sexual harassment during the pandemic with women in particular routinely subjected to male customers pressuring them to remove their masks for bigger tips. Meanwhile, another two-thirds of workers report getting half the tips they did before the pandemic, a new study finds.

One Fair Wage, a nonprofit organization advocating for tipped workers, surveyed more than 1,600 restaurant workers in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C..

Some of the findings are pretty obvious: like the fact restaurant workers are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, with nearly half of those surveyed reporting at least one employee at their establishment tested positive for the virus. Almost 70 percent reported safety guidelines aren’t always followed and 84 percent claimed they were made to be within six feet of an unmasked patron at least once a shift.

But other findings are less obvious and more disturbing. More than two-thirds of workers say their tips have dropped by at least 50 percent and more than half say they feel reluctant to enforce safety guidelines for fear that customers will punish them by tipping less. 

Coinciding with that is the finding that 41 percent of restaurant workers reported a noticeable increase in unwanted sexual comments from customers at work. Some reported such remarks often refer to their face masks, with customers implying they’d tip more if the employee removed their mask. 

“Take your mask off I want to see what’s underneath,” is the mildest of the comments, one employee noted.

“Come on, sweetie. Lemme see that pretty face under there. Take it off for me, will you? Just a quick flash.” begged one customer. The employee reported she “felt like he was asking me to take my shirt off, or something.”

When asked to put on a mask or observe social distancing, employees reported that customers sometimes react with hostility, including one man that called a female employee a whore and another man that allegedly grabbed his genitals saying “eat this.”

Overall, 43 percent of women surveyed reported witnessing unwanted sexual harassment-related to social distancing or masks.

“Service sector workers are facing a clear crisis, unable to protect themselves or enforce the safety protocols needed to protect the public,” the report states, concluding “that this vulnerability and inability to protect themselves and others is due to their dependence on tips as a majority of their wage.”

Here are some of the key findings from the restaurant worker survey:

  • 44 percent report one or more coworkers at their restaurant has contracted the virus.
  • 88 percent report knowing someone that contracted COVID-19 and 42 percent knew someone who died from the virus.
  • 70 percent say safety protocols aren’t always followed. 
  • 84 percent say they are made to be within six feet of an unmasked person at least once a shift.
  • 83 percent say tips have declined since the pandemic, and 66 percent report their tipped wages have dropped by at least half.
  • 58 percent say they feel reluctant to enforce social distancing and mask guidelines and 67 percent reported getting a lower tip after enforcing protocols.
  • 78 percent reported having witnessed customers reacting with hostility when asked to wear a mask or practice social distancing.
  • 41 percent reported a noticeable change in the frequency of sexually harassing comments from customers.

You can read the entire report here:

One Fair Wage Study by Leigh Tauss on Scribd

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