Female servers are vulnerable to sexual harassment on the job: UVIC researcher

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Servers face sexual harassment on the job, according to study
WATCH: A new study has come to a troubling conclusion: a law enacted in 2011 that set a lower minimum wage for alcohol servers has actually opened them up to more harassment on the job – Feb 9, 2017

Female servers have to put up with a lot of sexual harassment on the job, according to new research out of Victoria.

“I heard stories about having to listen to a customer talk about their sex life, having to listen to sexist jokes or innuendo, sometimes even inappropriate touching,” University of Victoria PHD candidate Kaitlyn Matulewicz said.

Matulewicz gathered these stories from current and former servers as part of her research project. She found low wages and a dependence on tips makes some female servers more vulnerable to sexual harassment from customers and colleagues.

“It really is the context of the work place and the work environment that’s a contributing factor that makes women more vulnerable to enduring these experiences as part of their work,” Matulewicz said.

Last year, a B.C. Supreme Court judge found an executive with construction company Ledcor inappropriately touched a server and called her “kitty kat” several times.

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Dwight Brisette denied the 2013 incident at the Coal Harbour Cactus Club in Vancouver. Brissette’s defamation suit against the restaurant and its staff was dismissed and he resigned from Ledcor.

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“That’s just one example,” Matulewicz said.

None of the restaurants contacted by Global News would talk to us.

We did speak to some women with experience working in B.C. restaurants and bars.

“I’ve seen other girls too who’ve taken like their hand being grabbed and like smacks on the butt just to put up with it and see if they get a tip out of it… And you don’t know what your hours are either so you can’t rely on your hours so you have to rely on your tables being good tippers,” Jill Cook, who worked as a server for close to 10 years, said.

Kristyn Alger, who worked as a server for more than five years, has similar stories of appalling work environments.

“You’re terrified to go and say anything just because then you have the risk of being let go, or just not having the good shifts, being the black sheep of the staff,” Alger said.

Matulewicz applauds changes made in other provinces, like Alberta abolishing the liquor server minimum wage and Ontario passing a ‘Protecting Employees’ Tips Act’.

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B.C.’s minimum wage for liquor servers is $9.60, $1.25 lower than minimum wage.

The province said it’s not planning to modify that law.

In an email, Jobs Minister Shirley Bond said: “The Workers’ Compensation Act specifically protects workers from bullying and harassment, has provisions that allow employees to refuse unsafe work and there are protections under the B.C. Human Rights Code to address sexual harassment. Anyone who has a complaint against their employer regarding employment standards, including in relation to the minimum wage and the liquor server wage, can call the Employment Standards Branch.”

Matulewicz hopes her study encourages more research into what she calls B.C.’s sexist restaurant industry and action from the province to ensure working conditions in restaurants are “less precarious and insecure.”

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