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Law and the Construction of Institutionalized Sexual Harassment in Restaurants

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 May 2015

Kaitlyn Matulewicz*
Ph.D CandidateFaculty of LawUniversity of


This paper tells the story of how full-service restaurant work is organized in such a way that sexualized interactions between customers and women working as servers, bartenders, and hostesses become enmeshed in the labour process. Key to this organization is how law contributes to making restaurant work precarious. With the unique gendered wage-tip relation, a relation legitimized and reinforced through lower minimum wage regulations for alcohol servers, workers rely on customers for tips. This fuels a relationship of unequal power that leaves workers vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexualized interactions with customers as the price to be paid for a tip—a form of institutionalized quid pro quo. Moreover, power relations become intensified in a work environment where employee schedules, duration of shifts, the regulation of tips, and overall income are insecure and unpredictable—all of these characteristics are attributable, in large part, to shortcomings of employment standards legislation in British Columbia.


L’article explique comment le travail de restaurant est organisé de telle façon à sexualiser les relations entre les clients et les femmes travaillant comme serveuses, barmaids et hôtesses. Cette sexualisation du travail serait le résultat de lois favorisant la précarité du travail de restaurant. À cause de la relation genrée salaire-pourboire, relation légitimisée et renforcée par des règles de minoration des salaires pour les serveurs d’alcool, les travailleuses dépendent des clients pour leurs pourboires. Il en résulte une relation de pouvoir asymétrique qui oblige les travailleuses à endurer le harcèlement sexuel et les interactions sexualisées de la part des clients en contrepartie d’un pourboire. De plus, ces relations de pouvoir asymétrique sont exacerbées par l’environnement de travail où les horaires, la durée des quarts de travail, la réglementation des pourboires et les revenus sont imprévisibles et mal assurés—ces caractéristiques étant attribuables à des vices dans les lois du travail de la Colombie-Britannique.

Copyright © Canadian Law and Society Association / Association Canadienne Droit et Société 2015 

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