Do Bar/Restaurant Workers Have a Right to be Free from Racism and Sexual Harassment, and to be Paid Fairly?

Bar owners in Austin, Texas have recently come under scrutiny for making allegedly hostile, racist, sexist comments.  You may be wondering, can employers use racism and sexism as they please, or do employees have rights in such situations?

Allowing racist and misogynistic behaviors to enter into the workplace can quickly become a violation of employees’ state and federal rights.  For example, if an owner or supervisor offers an employee job advances in exchange for sexual favors, that action may violate state and federal laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and/or Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code, both of which prohibit workplace sexual harassment. Sexual advances and groping in the workplace may violate the same laws.  Likewise, if an employer makes racist or derogatory statements, or takes action on the basis of an employee’s race, that too may translate into a violation of the employees right to be free from racial discrimination and/or national origin discrimination.

And, when it comes to bars and restaurants in particular, employees may want to be especially vigilant about their pay.  Federal wage laws may be violated whenever a prohibited individual (e.g., a chef, back-of-the-house expo, dishwasher, manager) takes part in a tip pool.  Also, employers generally should pay tipped employees at least the federally required wage of $2.13 per hour, plus overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.  Things like tip shaving or time shaving are generally prohibited, and penalties can be severe.  Nonetheless, local practitioners believe such violations are rampant in the industry.  Failure to follow these rules may result in a violation of the state and federal rights of bartenders, barbacks, bouncers, waiters, servers, hostesses, and other bar/restaurant staff.