Forty percent of women in the fast-food industry report facing sexual harassment on the job, according to a national survey conducted by Hart Research Associates for three of the country’s top women’s and anti-violence advocacy organizations. Previous survey research suggests this rate is substantially higher than in workplaces overall.
The survey, released Wednesday by Futures Without Violence, the Ms. Foundation for Women and the National Partnership for Women & Families, found that 42 percent of women in fast-food who experience sexual harassment feel forced to accept it because they can’t afford to lose their job. More than one in five (21 percent) women who face sexual harassment report that, after raising the issue, their employer took some negative action, including by cutting their hours, changing them to a less desirable schedule, giving them additional duties and being denied a raise.
"The survey shows low pay isn’t the only problem facing women at companies like McDonald’s — sexual harassment is widespread and it’s just as unacceptable," said Linda A. Seabrook, general counsel at Futures Without Violence. "When one in five female fast-food workers report retaliation ranging from cut hours to firing after speaking out against harassment, it’s no wonder many choose to stay silent. No woman in the fast-food industry — or any industry — should have to tolerate harassment on the job out of fear of risking their next paycheck."
The most common forms of sexual harassment experienced by women in the fast-food industry include sexual teasing, jokes, remarks or questions; hugging or touching; and questions about sexual interests or unwanted information about others’ sexual interests, according to the survey.
"Far too many women in the fast-food industry are facing sexual harassment in their place of work. The details outlined in the survey are unacceptable," said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). "Most troubling is that fast-food workers face retaliation if they speak out about the abuse, leaving many to remain silent and put up with it out of fear of losing their jobs. It’s a wake-up call for the fast-food industry, one I sincerely hope they heed."
The widespread incidence of sexual harassment in the fast-food sector takes a significant toll on women working in the industry. Forty-five percent of women in fast-food cite health problems resulting from harassment faced on the job, including stress, anxiety, depression, changes in sleep patterns and changes in appetite.
"Women risk more than their jobs in speaking out about sexual harassment at work. With job stability impacting their access to child care and other supports — and women, particularly women of color, facing negative consequences from reporting abuse — it is no surprise that more than two in five women feel they must accept such treatment," said Teresa C. Younger, President and CEO at the Ms. Foundation for Women. "No woman should be forced to work in a setting that compromises her safety. Employers in the fast-food industry must do better."
The survey found that many women working fast-food jobs at companies like McDonald’s feel they are on their own when it comes to addressing sexual harassment. The most common response, taken by 45 percent of respondents, was to try to avoid the harasser, while 38 percent asked the harasser directly to stop and 34 percent told coworkers. Four in 10 reported it to their employer.
"We stand by women in the fast-food industry in calling for safer workplaces where harassment is not tolerated, allegations are taken seriously and workers’ rights are respected," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. "Every worker in this country deserves a fair and family friendly workplace, and stopping abuse and harassment on the job is critically important."
Victims of sexual harassment also face significant disruptions in their jobs and careers. Fifteen percent reported changing their schedules as a result of unwanted sexual behavior, 10 percent cut back on the number of hours they worked, and eight percent quit their jobs altogether. African-American workers (33 percent) and Latinas (32 percent) are more likely to face these types of work disruptions than are white women (25 percent).
"These survey results are significant and timely as they give voice to women in low-wage jobs, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. economy, whose intolerable experiences with sexual harassment are often not captured in the headlines," said KC Wagner of The Worker Institute at Cornell University ILR School. "Having less power on the job does not mean they have any less workplace rights to safety, dignity, racial justice and economic security on the job." The survey was based on interviews with a national sample of 1,271 women age 16 and older who work in a fast- food restaurant in non-managerial positions. Interviews were conducted online from July 22 to 27, 2016.
"The results of the survey clearly show that sexual harassment is a major problem facing a significant share of women in the fast-food industry," said Mark Bunge, senior vice president at Hart Research Associates. "Women who speak up about sexual harassment often face negative consequences from their employers, so many women try to resolve it on their own, or feel that they have to put up with it in order to keep their job."
About the National Partnership
The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help all people meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at NationalPartnership.org.