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What Can Be Done to Protect Fast Food Industry Employees from Sexual Harassment at Work?

By Victoria Micelli*

Workplace sexual harassment in the fast food industry is gaining increased attention, especially with high-profile lawsuits against franchise owners of McDonald’s and Taco Bell. It is important to be mindful of the demographic of workers most impacted by workplace sexual harassment in this industry – young, disproportionately female and racialized employees.

Fast food work is an appealing option for a lot of young workers. The hours are flexible, which allows the work to be scheduled around school and other commitments. The job provides on-the-job training, requiring little to no previous experience. And some companies even offer competitive incentives like scholarship programs.

The flip side of this is that young workers are particularly susceptible to workplace sexual harassment. Some may be dependent on this income, and therefore less likely to complain about inappropriate behaviour due to a fear of reprisal. Others may be so new to the workforce that they normalize this behaviour or do not recognize it as wrong. Many do not know their rights, what they are protected from, or ways of reporting the behaviour. Additionally, young workers are often targeted for workplace sexual harassment and violence because they are perceived to have less social power and status in their workplaces – which is often true.

Job experience is crucial for young workers seeking to build their skill sets and develop attractive resumes. Workplace sexual harassment can cost young workers these opportunities. Additionally, it can communicate to young workers that sexual harassment and violence are normal and to be expected within and outside the workplace.

So what can we do about it? We can push youth organizations and schools to allow for education on worker’s rights at a young age. The SHAPE Project offers free education on workplace sexual harassment, and young workers’ rights to be protected. We can also start intervening in our own spaces, employment and otherwise, where we see inappropriate behaviour directed at youth.

If you are interested in our services and how you can keep young workers in all industries safe from workplace sexual harassment, contact your local SHAPE Project for more information.

*Victoria is the Community Legal Worker at Community Legal Assistance Sarnia where she coordinates the SHIW Project. She is passionate about being proactive in addressing workplace sexual harassment, especially for those in vulnerable, precarious, and low-wage employment”

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