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Restaurant workers claim link between low wages, harassment

On Feb. 13, workers in seven cities lobbied for higher wages for restaurant workers on the grounds that this would reduce incidents of sexual harassment in their workplaces. According to the president of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, the federal minimum wage of $2.13 per hour combined with workers' dependence on tips leaves them more vulnerable to harassment from both customers and other workers. Texas is one of the states in which this remains the minimum wage for restaurant workers.

More than two-thirds of employees who work for tips are women. According to the ROC, the rate of sexual harassment for tipped women employees in states where they received the full minimum wage was 50 percent less compared to states where women were paid $2.13 per hour. Around half of all American women are employed in the restaurant industry at some point in their lives.

In California, Nevada, Washington and four other states, the wage for restaurant workers is higher. The minimum wage, paid in 17 states, has remained the same for two decades. Several other states pay somewhere between $2.13 and the state mandated minimum wage for other jobs. New York is one of those states, but it is considering switching to the higher payment.

A restaurant industry employee might be the victim of wage violations as well. For example, the employee might not receive overtime pay or might not be allowed mandated breaks. Restaurant employees might hesitate to address these issues for fear of being fired or another type of retaliation. An attorney might review employee rights with an individual in this situation, and the employee might first try to address it in the workplace. If the employer is unresponsive, the next step might be a lawsuit. If a number of employees are being treated in the same way, it might be possible to file a class action lawsuit against the employer.

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