Sexual harassment in the workplace is a big story currently and all the headlines are about the celebrities, politicians and well-known men who have - allegedly - used their positions of power to take advantage of women.  What's not making the news is all the similar stories that are also happening in small and larger businesses throughout the country.

The website Buzzfeed published data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about this problem and what they found is startling: between 1995 and 2016 more than 170,000 claims of harassment were filed with the EEOC. It's likely that these claims only represent a fraction of actual incidents that occurred because many are either resolved internally or otherwise go unreported. But the numbers are educational.

83 percent of the claims were filed by women, which is not surprising.  But what may be surprising is what kind of jobs they had. in the words of Meg A. Bond, the director for the Center for Women and Work at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, some "work settings are just more fertile ground” for inappropriate behavior.  Which workplaces would those be?

That would be restaurants, retail, supermarkets, hotels and other related service businesses. 10,057 claims were filed by people working in full-service restaurants alone and the food service industry led all other industries in claims filed.  Why? Employees working in restaurants are lower paid, rely on tips and desire coveted shift assignments, which are carrots that an predatory supervisor (or even a customer) can dangle in exchange for...well, who knows what.  "Those who do the harassment know that,” one law professor told Buzzfeed.

The data also found that industries where women are a minority in the workforce (such as construction) were also places where those women experienced more sexual harassment. One thing that may be a comfort to some is that, at least between 2010 and 2016, approximately half of the claims had "no reasonable cause." But whatever happened in those cases, it was significant enough to motivate someone to file a claim.

Given all the media attention, the expectation for businesses - small and large - is that there will be an increased level of awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace going forward.  If you're running a business in the restaurant, retail or service industry it's a good idea to pay extra attention to your policies.

Published on: Dec 11, 2017