January 28th, 2014

Let’s Talk with Kalola: Restaurant Worker

Dear Kalola,

From the very beginning it was made known to me that I was not liked simply because I am Cuban. I was insulted on a daily basis, yelled at and sent home if I attempted to defend myself.

The final straw came when my son’s father came to the job asking for me in order to get insurance cards and perhaps go to the hospital as our 12 year old son had gotten hurt while rough housing. Not only was I not told that he had even been there, the general manager denied that he ever said that, that he was just there to pick me up. I was told that I had a bad attitude and was promptly fired. I was a mother that was rightfully furious at how the whole situation was handled.

I had made several attempts to speak to management about the abuse, even asked for an HR department and or to speak to the owner was told he didn’t wish to be bothered. This company promotes racism and fear in the work place.  At the back of house is where you will find all the minorities and in the front of the house are where you will find the pretty white waitresses.


Dear Jacqui,

Thank you for writing to “Let’s Talk” and sharing your workplace experiences.   You are not alone in what you have experienced at work.  Let me take this opportunity to share with you information that I recently received from Equal Rights Advocates as it relates to workers in the restaurant industry.

According to Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), there are over 10 million workers in the restaurant industry, and the majority of them are women earning poverty-level wages.  ERA reports:  Female restaurant workers cannot support their families when they earn minimum wage.  (See the U.S. Department of Labor’s interactive U.S. map on minimum wage laws in the U.S.)  Many of these workers are denied overtime pay or other compensation earned.  Many are denied access to higher-paying jobs within the industry.  They are also more likely to be victims of sex discrimination and harassment than workers in other industries.

ERA is a national civil rights organization that is dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls.  ERA and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) have teamed together on a campaign to bring fairness to women restaurant workers across the United States.  This new initiative is called “Access to Gender Justice Project.”  The ERA announcement states, “The project will not only provide legal education and representation often denied to low-wage restaurant workers, it will serve as a model for uplifting and transforming other low-wage industries where women are disproportionately concentrated.”  For restaurant workers facing discrimination or wage injustice, see ERA’s website for their advice and counseling service.


ROC United’s mission is to improve wages and working conditions for the 10 million restaurant workers across our nation (ROC United website). From a February 2011 report by ROC United, “Behind the Kitchen Door: A Multi-Site Study of the Restaurant Industry” (sites included New York City, Chicago, Metro Detroit, Los Angeles, Maine, Miami, New Orleans, and Washington, DC).

  • 89.7 percent of restaurant workers did not have health insurance provided through their employer
  • 79.4 percent did not have paid vacation days
  • 87.7 percent did not have paid sick days
  • 63.7 percent went to work while sick
  • 46.3 percent suffered from overtime violations
  • 34.6 percent reported working under time pressure that could have harmed the health and safety of the consumer
  • 28.0 percent of workers who were passed over for a promotion reported that it was based on race
  • Median wage of white restaurant workers:  $13.25
  • Median wage of restaurant workers of color:  $9.54

Employment discrimination and types of discrimination—The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws which prohibit employment discrimination based on the following:

  • age (40 or over)
  • disability
  • equal pay/compensation
  • genetic information
  • harassment—unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or over), disability or genetic information
  • national origin—when a job applicant or employee is treated unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background even if they are not.
  • pregnancy
  • race/color
  • religion
  • retaliation—it is illegal to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against job applicants or employees because they filed a charge of discrimination, because they complained to their employer or other covered entity about discrimination on the job, or because they participated in an employment discrimination proceeding such as an investigation or a lawsuit.
  • sex
  • sexual harassment

In reviewing the EEOC website, you will also see the following statement as it relates to illegal discrimination:

“Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”


In regard to restaurants—EEOC Coverage for Privates Employers/Businesses.  The EEOC enforces discrimination laws for private employers/businesses IF the employer has 15 or more employees who have worked for the employer for at least 20 calendar weeks (in this year or last).  The EEOC says that figuring out whether an employer is covered or not can be complicated, and suggests that a worker contact the nearest EEOC field office who can make a determination.  See the EEOC Office and Jurisdictional Map.

For more information about the laws that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces, please go to their website or contact the EEOC field office closest to where you live.

As of this writing, workplace bullying is NOT against the law in any state in the U.S.   As defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference—sabotage—which prevents work from getting done

When filing a complaint against an employer, the complainant (the worker) will need to provide documentation that will support the worker’s allegation(s).  Each incident of concern should be documented.  Documentation should include date/time, location, who was involved, what was said or done in detail.   Do not say he/she bullied me without including details.—What did the person do that you feel constituted bullying behavior?  Do not say she/he harassed me without details.—What did the person do that you feel constituted harassment?  Details are needed so that a person reading your documentation will get a clear picture in their mind of exactly what happened.   How did the person bully or harass you?

Do not keep your documentation on the computer that you use at work.  Do your documentation at home on your laptop or home computer, and keep a copy of your documentation in a safe place.   Abusive or threatening e-mails, telephone messages, text messages should be saved.   Don’t delete these messages.


When will you use the documentation?  Your well-kept, detailed documentation can be used as evidence of what happened to you.  This information may be shared at an unemployment benefits’ hearing, with an employment and labor attorney that you have hired, or a state or federal agency or other agency that investigates illegal discrimination in the workplace or to law enforcement (in extreme cases, for example: if the target has been physically assaulted or threatened with harm, and/or stalked or the target was a witness to it). 


Many full-time workers take it for granted that their job benefits will include vacation time, paid sick leave, overtime pay or comp time off, health insurance, etc.  Not all jobs offer job benefits and a good salary.  It is not uncommon for workers in low-paying jobs to work at other jobs.  We do what we must to take care of ourselves, our families, keep a roof over our heads and pay the bills.  Many restaurant workers do not receive paid sick leave which means they often go to work when they are sick as do workers in other industries who don’t receive paid sick leave.  Some workers don’t call in sick because they fear losing their job, and they can’t afford to lose the day’s pay.  The next time you go out to eat think about the work involved to get the meal you ordered to your table, i.e., food preparation, cooking, serving, clean up, etc.  Suppose the person doing those jobs is sick?

“Goodness is about character—integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like.  More than anything else, it is about how we treat people.”   … Dennis Prager, American Journalist





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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 at 5:00 am and is filed under Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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