Blog - Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the hospitality industry

sexual harassment australia, Sexual harassment in the hospitality industry
Sexual harassment in the hospitality industry is far too common

Sexual harassment in the hospitality industry, i should have written an article years ago.

The service workplace is largely populated by women, especially at the lower levels.
Service employees tend to be young and many cases have little formal education. Their position in the workplace is often weak: young women are less confident when dealing with people in authority, and feel less important than any other group of employees in the work place.

This basically sums this hospitality industry up. Sexual harassment incidences in larger companies is on the decline and so it should be, banks, large miners and service companies cannot risk or suffer the reputational damage caused by sexual harassment complaints. So its down with smaller employers where females intermix with males in confined spaces, work longer hours in a continuing social environment, you guessed it, hospitality.

What does sexual harassment in the hospitality industry look like?

Sexual harassment has become most widespread within the hospitality industry compared to any other industries.  In fact, sexual harassment is so common within the hospitality industry that it’s just seen as part of employee’s job.

Conversations around sexual harassment in the workplace are often avoided. Why is this? Employees fear losing their jobs if they complain or raise any issues regarding unwanted sexual advancements by other staff/colleagues or managers.

However, statistics show that sexual harassment in the workplace is in fact very common, as 9 out of 10 hospitality workers have experienced being sexually harassed. Furthermore 84.7% of hospitality workers have admitted to witnessing other people being sexually harassed by their co-workers or boss.With such high numbers of employees being sexually harassed, why are the complaints ignored and brushed off?

We want you to know that you DO NOT have to suffer in silence. Sexual harassment in the workplace is real and as previously evidenced, is particularly common within the hospitality industry.

Sexual harassment in the hospitality industry
We should all be respected


Firstly, the environment within the hospitality industry plays a major role in sexual harassment. According to Work Safe Victoria, sexual harassment in the workplace (particularly in hospitality) can occur in the following ways:

  • Touching
  • Staring or leering
  • Suggestive comments or jokes
  • Sexually explicit pictures or posters
  • Repeated invitations to go out on dates
  • Requests for sex
  • Intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body
  • Unnecessary contact, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
  • Insults or taunts based on sex or gender
  • Sexually explicit physical; contact
  • Sexually explicit emails, text messages or social medica activity.

Small business

Most hospitality businesses are small and therefore do not have a Human Resource department. The lack thereof plays a vital role when employees complain or raise concerns about being sexually harassed. Most managers and owners of hospitality businesses tend to be male, while most offenders of sexual harassment tend to be male as well. However, most victims of sexual harassment are female. This gender ratio dynamic creates a power imbalance where females are painted as the weaker and vulnerable employees, whom have to complain to their male boss about another male that has been sexually harassing them.

As such, females tend to feel like their complaints are not understood nor taken seriously in the matter. This is especially the case when the business is small, and the staff have a close-net bond. The manger/boss may avoid any conflicts, to keep the peace and good friendships between staff. As such, managers tend to brush off any sort of comment that raises such sexual harassment concerns in the workplace. Lots of women have been repeatedly told to “Learn to take a joke,” after complaining to their managers of being sexually harassed.

Fast-paced environment

From cafés to bars, and restaurants to fast-food, the hospitality industry is a meeting place for friends, family, business deals and celebrations. There is no denying the fast-paced nature of working within the hospitality industry. This type of environment makes it more difficult for sexual harassment complaints to be heard.

For example, an employee working in a bar on a Saturday night would be constantly serving drinks to customers. In fact, many bar businesses encourage their staff to drink alcohol during late night work shifts to create that “fun” and “party” atmosphere. However, this creates an environment where other co-workers take advantage of the busy and fast-paced nature by brushing past the employee, briefly touching them in an unwanted part of their body or perhaps being carried away in the drunken environment and make an inappropriate sexual comment.

Victims in this situation tend to feel extremely uncomfortable, but their complaints to their colleagues and managers are ignored. The busy-environment and noisy customers tend to override any accusation or complaint made in the circumstance. However, this is no excuse for a business to ignore a complaint. 

sexual harassment


If we consider sexual harassment in the hospitality industry now, compared to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, we can see a more sneaky and smarter way in which the harasser acts. It is probable the harasser has already searched the victim’s social media account, added them on platforms such as FaceBook, Instagram and Snapchat and has “befriended” them to gain their trust. Online sexual harassment is common for young girls aged 15-17 who have just started working within their new job.

For example, a 15-17 year old working at the local pizza shop may have felt included when adding her new work “friends” on Instagram or Snapchat to perhaps grow her following. The young girl’s work “friend” then messages her “Text me when you get home xx” creating a protective and friendly façade. However, fast-forward a few weeks and the work “friend” is offering to drive the young girl home after her late-night work shift. When the young girl is dropped home, the work “friend” messages her asking for explicit images.

Sexual harassment nowadays is likely to be pre-planned as the harasser chooses their target. Unfortunately, most targets tend to be the younger and more vulnerable generation. According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, the highest risk for sexual violence are people aged 12-34 years old. This also includes the hospitality workers who become extremely fatigued for working late hours, on their feet all day and volunteering to work extra work shifts because they need the money. The burnout and fatigue cause employees to become vulnerable to sexual harassment as other co-workers take advantage by trying to “help” them out by driving them home.


Sexual harassment in the hospitality workplace also includes being sent messages or photos outside of work hours by a colleague or manager. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, it may be believed that sexual harassment in the hospitality industry would have decreased, due to bars and restaurants being closed. However, the lockdowns only caused hospitality workers to have more time feeling bored. With boredom comes sexual messages to colleagues, particularly requests for explicit images. Read our previous post on Sexual Harassment & COVID-19: The Blurring of Boundaries, on how sexual harassment increased to online forms during the COVID-19 lockdowns.


It is extremely important to also note that women are not the only victims of sexual harassment in the hospitality industry. Men and LGBT people have also been subject to sexual harassment at work. In fact, research conducted by the Trades Union Congress has shown that nearly 70% of LGBT people have been sexually harassed at work and 66% of those people did not tell their employer. [1]

Furthermore, according to the Fourth National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australia Workplaces (2018), 16% of men have experienced sexual harassment at work in 2017/2018. These numbers cannot be ignored. Men tend to be known for “joking around” in the work environment, in which harassers use that as an excuse to cover up any sexual advancements. However, this does not mean male victims should not complain to management about such harassing gestures.

sexual harassment
We are all entitled to a safe workplace


Most importantly, you should be aware that no matter how common sexual harassment in the hospitality industry is, it is NOT okay and should be reported to a higher authority. It is clear sexual harassment still occurs in the hospitality industry despite Government legislation with stop sexual harassment orders. Stopping sexual harassment in the workplace is a generational change that needs to be accelerated.  If you have been sexually harassed by a colleague, make sure you complain to your manager/boss. This complaint can be in person, phone call or message/email.

If your complaint is ignored or not dealt with professionally, then you can lodge a General Protections claim to the Fair Work Commission outlining your victimization of sexual harassment and the fact your complaint was ignored. If your manager/boss is the one that is sexually harassing you, you can choose to resign, or lodge a Sexual Harassment complaint to your states Equal Opportunity Commission. Other options available are;

  • Report the harassment to the police
  • Block the harasser from all social media accounts
  • Request to be relocated to a different store if the hospitality business is a large company with several stores
  • Complain to the Human Resource manager
  • Confront the harasser yourself and confidently tell them to stop

Seek advice from an industry professional in Sexual Harassment

We Are A Whole New Approach, we are not sexual harassment lawyers but leading workplace advisors who have been representing employees in sexual harassment claims since 2004. If you have a question or want to know something relating to your workplace or circumstances, give us a call, it cost nothing to call are treated confidentially. We are particularly interested in diversity in workplace issues, any historical sex discrimination or sexual harassment, and sexual harassment after hours or outside the workplace. This seems to have increased dramatically. We have an article published, if someone is sexually harassing you, how to tell someone to back off, this may be assistance to you, click here

We have other web sites that may be of assistance. for Fair work Commission related matters, including redundancies, workplace investigations, forced resignations, general protections, unfair dismissal claims.
AWDR, workplace advice, 120 pages of reading that may assist you with dealing with your current circumstances. Make the call ring on 1800 333 666