Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Upon reading the title of this, it could be taken at first glance as an article on sexual harassment by bosses and co-workers. And as a disclaimer, I know that my experiences are in no way as serious or life-threatening as sexual assault. However, there is another aspect that is touched upon far less: sexual harassment by customers. I work in the service industry, where pretending to be cute and charming is practically part of the job description. Throwing yourself out there with a cute smile and pretending to be flattered by compliments in an attempt to make tips puts young girls like myself in a particularly vulnerable position. Men often don’t realize the difference between “customer service” and “flirting.” While I myself am guilty of feigning interest in a customer in the hopes that I”ll be able to make a slightly larger tip does not make it okay that I have been put in such a situation in the first place.

At my place of employment, a particular man would come in once or twice a week to order drinks. Often my standard opening to wait on customers, “How are you doing tonight?” would be answered with things such as “not as good as you look” and “not as good as I’d be with you and your twin.” While it was completely inappropriate of him, I brushed it off because it didn’t really bother me much. A manager was made aware of the problem, but nothing was really made of it. Over time, however, the so-called compliments became increasingly strange. A few I got were “I wish that I were that necklace [that I was wearing that day] so I could always be close to you” and “If you were my daughter I would install a condom in you because I’d be worried about other men.” I did tell my manager about those comments, but they just said if it happened again they would take care of it.But after that, I did my very best to avoid this man. I would find something to do in the back room each time that he would come up to order. He would call to me, saying “Peppy” which was the nickname he gave me. I tried very hard to ignore him and his comments. Occasionally things would happen, though. At one point, when I was ordering drinks on my day off he was in the facility and called out my “nickname” and when I ignored him, he came up behind me and grabbed me in an effort to get his attention. Since I was off the clock and none of my other reports made any difference, I never reported it. I just continued to avoid him at all costs. 

Recently, however, he came in while I was the only one working and so I tried to limit myself to the back room. But the man waited until I was waiting on another customer so that I would have no chance to get away. His mere presence makes me so uncomfortable, and seeing his creepy grin as he waited to talk to me set me over the edge. I called a manager and asked for him to come help me. Instead, he set up another employee to ring. Then the store manager took me into the back, reprimanded me for my poor customer service by refusing to wait on him. She told me that I would have to tell him myself that he and his comments make me uncomfortable. I told her about the grabbing incident, but she said that it happened too long ago to be used as a reason to kick him out of the store. She told me that if we kicked him out for things that happened before, he could “tell higher up people and also tell people to stop shopping at [our store].” Basically, she told me that one customer’s business was more important than a longtime employee’s feeling safe in the workplace. This is unacceptable working conditions, and I have no doubt that countless others in the service industry experience the same thing all the time. It is just another facet of sexual harassment that should not be ignored.

For another article and perspective on this topic, read this article:

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