Not many people can say that they love their job. Whether it be long hours, traffic ridden commutes or annoying coworkers, there are countless things to find wrong with work. The list grows even further when your job is in customer service, particularly food service. Even fewer people, particularly women, can say that they love their customer service job. Sexual harassment is said to “just be part of the gig.” Customers and coworkers both contribute to the inappropriate behavior.
Sexual harassment is defined as “any unwelcome verbal or physical conduct qualifies, regardless of whether it is implicit or explicit.” This can be between a man and a woman, two women or two men. Gender has nothing to do with it. If you do not like the attention, it is harassment.
Most other definitions echo similar themes of unwanted attention or negative comments about a person.
I have been incredibly lucky. Throughout my three years as a food service worker, I have only been put in an uncomfortable situation once. There are many regular customers at my job, and one of them is a kind, older gentleman. He is always very polite, but sometimes has trouble getting the lid onto his personal cup. There is a policy against touching the lid on customers’ drinks, but many of us overlook this rule for this customer. One morning, in lieu of his usual “Good morning!” he said, “Hey good looking!” to me. I smiled and said, “That makes me very uncomfortable, please do not say that.” He seemed a little taken aback, but I have not had a problem with him since. Some of my friends have had similar experiences. The same customer that I dealt with got physical with my coworker Beth*. He asked her to put the lid on his personal cup, against our policy. Beth politely refused citing the policy, but he took this to mean that she did not understand what he wanted. He got upset and grabbed her wrist out of frustration, trying to get her to put on the lid. She pulled her arm away and finished the transaction as quick as she could. Beth said of the incident, “If it wasn’t for my job I would have probably called the cops because you just can’t do that to people and think it’s okay.” She said causing a scene and reporting the incident would have followed her if she were to transfer stores. Since then, she has had others help the man, a regular, instead of her. Penny* had a man try to take photos of her while working. He told her about his gallery, and that he would like her photo to add to it. Penny refused over and over again. She told the supervisor on shift, who did nothing.
The fact that it happens is deplorable. Dealing with the behavior can be a whole separate ball game. Both of my coworkers mentioned previously had no idea how to handle the situation as it happened. During a rush, it is hard to switch out positions when a customer with a history of harassment comes in. It is even harder to bring up the subject with supervisors and managers. 70% of workplace sexual harassment goes unreported.
Just searching “female customer service harassment” leads to a variety of websites, from a reddit thread to extensive studies of the food service industry and its absurd levels of harassment. This particular reddit thread about retail harassment is one story after another. These women have worked in many different retail locations, from adult entertainment, to bars, to clothing stores. There is always one common theme: being taken advantage of because of their job.
Smiling, being welcoming and creating a connection is part of my job. I do not get paid server’s wage, so tips are not as much of a concern as doing my job well. Women who are paid some of the lowest server wages report the most sexual harassment. Doing my job means a variety of things that have the possibility of being taken the wrong way- like smiling to excess and laughing at dumb jokes. To have anyone, man or woman, take advantage of that, is appalling. This is just another example of a culture that still views women, particularly in service, much lesser than themselves. I may work in customer service, but I am so much more than that. When I am harassed at work because my job is “lower class” job, it does not just make me uncomfortable it also belittles me as an employee and a person. Sexual harassment should not be “part of the job,” or “something to deal with.” Everyone has the right to go to work, do a good job, and earn a living regardless of gender or any other factor.
*names have been changed