Sexual Harassment Is Awful. But It Has Nothing To Do With Tipping.
Author: Michael Saltsman
Publication Date: March 2018
Topics: Tipped Wage
Does the option to leave a gratuity for a waiter or waitress encourage customers to sexually harass these employees? That’s the message currently being promoted by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), and echoed in dozens of recent news articles.
It’s a popular talking point. But it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.
ROC is a controversial labor advocacy organization with its own history of alleged bad behavior; it was even sued by its own employees for illegal firings.But ROC’s profile has been rising in recent years, with celebrities such as Jane Fonda and Amy Poehler embracing its cause (if not the restaurant servers that ROC claims to represent).
ROC bases its argument on tipping and sexual harassment on a 2014 survey it released, which includes the opinions of 455 current restaurant workers and several hundred who no longer work in the industry. In ROC’s own words, its survey shows that “tipped women workers who [work in states without a tip credit] report half the rate of sexual harassment…since they do not have to accept inappropriate behavior from customers…”
(Quick aside for readers encountering the concept for the first time: The tip credit allows restaurants to count tips as income, much as the IRS does. All but seven states follow this approach, as does the federal government. Here’s a brief primer for those who want to read further.)
Some version of ROC’s “tipping = harassment” claim has been repeated hundreds of times by ROC, its surrogates, and reporters who apparently believe it’s too good to check. But the errors are numerous, and start with the fact that ROC doesn’t even cite its own research accurately. (I reached out to ROC and offered its team the opportunity to comment on this and other critiques of its report, but did not hear back.)
ROC’s study does not show that “tipped women workers” report “half the rate of sexual harassment” in states without a tip credit; in fact, even using ROC’s flawed data (more on that below) it shows that the differences in reported harassment for this group are relatively minor. What ROC’s study looks at is the difference in reported harassment for all restaurant workers–tipped and non-tipped–and from all sources–not just customers, but co-workers and managers.
That’s a big problem: ROC’s core claim on the link between tipping and sexual harassment relies on responses from employees who don’t receive tips, and from manager/coworker behavior that has nothing to do with tips. This runs directly contrary to ROC’s theory (quoted above) that tipping leads to harassment because tipped employees are forced to endure bad behavior from customers. ROC’s report doesn’t show that; in fact, a table buried in the back of ROC’s report shows a strong majority of current tipped employees disagree with this statement.
There are a number of other problems with ROC’s survey, which my organization details in a new report. But the nail in the coffin of ROC’s bad argument comes not from me, but from the federal government, which tracks data on sexual harassment claims by industry and state. In the four-year period prior to ROC’s report, these data show that California–a state without a tip credit–had double the percentage of restaurant industry sexual harassment claims as did New York, which permits a tip credit.
In other words, ROC’s talking point here is reversed — the state with a tip credit had half the rate of harassment as a state that does not.
This column has previously debunked the dubious economic benefits of raising the tipped wage. And the analysis above makes clear that the sexual harassment angle is equally flawed. If servers oppose the “raise,” and there’s no good policy rationale, the question remains: Why would policymakers propose changing such a beneficial and widely-favored status quo?