One Fair Wage analysis of how sexual harassment and wage theft are driving women, women of color and single mothers out of the restaurant industry
One Fair Wage is a national coalition, campaign and organization that aims to end all sub-minimum wages in the United States and improve the sustainability of wages and working conditions in the service sector. One Fair Wage policy would require all employers to pay the full minimum wage with fair, non-discriminatory tips on top, which would lift millions of tipped workers below the minimum wage out of poverty nationally.
Sexual harassment in the hospitality industry is not new. The persistence of low wages and reliance on customer tips has led restaurant workers, the majority of whom are women and disproportionately colored women, to tolerate inappropriate behavior from both management and customers to make ends meet. The pandemic introduced a new set of challenges for the service sector and exacerbated pre-existing problems to the point where restaurant work has now become life-threatening. One Fair Wage recently released a report, “ Unlivable: Increased sexual harassment and wage theft continue to drive women, women of color and single mothers out of the service sector.” It describes the unlivable working conditions in the hospitality industry that require urgent attention and action.
One Fair Wage conducted a nationwide three-week survey of restaurant workers in March 2022 to gauge their experiences of workplace harassment. We found that women of color were more likely than men to report that their tips didn’t bring them up to the legal full minimum wage. Half of all women and 58 percent of women of color say they are currently not getting enough tips to meet full minimum wages, compared to 32 percent of men. More than 36 percent of women and 46 percent of women of color are also not well compensated for overtime, compared to 24 percent of men. This is especially problematic in light of the industry’s pandemic-related workforce crisis, as the few staff left in restaurants
Our research also shows that sexual harassment is on the rise. Nearly half of all women and 33 percent of men say they have been increasingly harassed by customers and/or executives since the start of the pandemic. Now, after two years of the pandemic, 73 percent of women, 78 percent of women of color and 61 percent of men report experiencing or witnessing inappropriate sexual behavior from customers on a regular basis. This is compounded by the fact that tipped employees, especially women, are reluctant to report workplace harassment, as they experience significantly more retaliation compared to their untipped counterparts.
This report also found that the restaurant industry, which is overwhelmingly female, has the highest concentration of single mothers in any industry. Single mothers occupy precarious positions in the service sector, as they are often the sole source of income for their households and are thus forced to tolerate workplace bullying because they rely on tips to compensate for the low minimum wage they receive. The pandemic has further jeopardized their financial security, with most employees saying their tips have declined since the start of the pandemic, often by 50 percent or more. Single mothers also face a significant pay gap between them and their male counterparts, with recent data from anotherOne fair pay report uncovering a pay gap of $1.54 per hour or $3,200 per year between single mothers and men.
Due to unlivable conditions such as low tips, wage theft and employee harassment due to working below the minimum wage, more than half of women, women of color and men are considering leaving their jobs. Of the workers surveyed, 96 percent support One Fair Wage , a full minimum wage with tips on top, and 89 percent have pledged to stop working unless One Fair Wage is passed as legislation. If employees are guaranteed a living wage, they will be empowered to reject unwanted sexual behavior from both customers and management and work with the dignity and safety they deserve.
For more information about this report, please contact William Wise, Research Fellow at One Fair Wage at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rohma Khan, Research Fellow at One Fair Wage at