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December 24, 2020

'Maskual harassment': Restaurant employees say they face less tips, more sexual harassment amid pandemic

Restaurants COVID-19 Vladimir Smirnov/TASS/Sipa USA

Restaurant employees across the country said enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing has lead to a decrease in tips and an increase in sexual harassment.

Waitresses, servers and bartenders are among the population of workers who are at greatest risk for exposure to the coronavirus, and they also were among the hardest hit by the economic ramifications of the pandemic, with job losses piling up as states imposed restrictions on dining to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Add to that a new report finds food-service workers now face more hostility, sexual harassment and less tips from customers. Those surveyed reported an 80% decrease in earning from tips and a 40% increase in sexual harassment this year, according to One Fair Wage, an advocacy organization for restaurant workers.

Tips are now more essential to workers more than ever because of reduced shifts and restaurant closures.

The survey polled 1,675 food service workers in October and November who worked in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Washington D.C. 

Some workers cited that enforcing mask-wearing and social distancing policies has resulted in hostility from customers. One woman polled said she experienced this more than her male coworkers do. 

Around 85% of restaurant workers said they are within 6 feet of someone without a mask at least once during their shifts, the report said. One third said they estimate they interact with 30 or more people who aren't wearing masks each shift.

This phenomenon can be called "maskual harassment," Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage, told NPR

In another interview with The Lily, Jayaraman said, "Tips are way down, servers are struggling to pay their bills. So every customer who walks in the door has more power than they did before."

The report also found that 45% of food-service employees worked with at least one person who had contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and 70% said their employer was cutting corners on coronavirus protocols, Philadelphia Business Journal reported.

The pandemic has brought out tensions between customers and employees. About 78% of restaurant workers surveyed said they've seen hostile behavior from customers when they remind people to social distance or wear masks. More than half said such incidents happened weekly.

As a result, many restaurant workers said they are hesitant to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols because they are afraid of losing out on tips. In fact, many said they have noticed they receive less money in tips when they do enforce safety protocol.

Sexualized comments and sexual harassment as a whole has gone up, the report said. Many comments came from male customers who ask women servers and bartenders to pull down their masks so they can see their faces.

One survey respondent said a male customer asked her to "pull that mask down so I can see if I want to take you home later."

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