Sexual harassment

We are not on the menu: Sexual harassment in the hotel and restaurant industry

Sexual harassment is part of everyday life for many people in the hotel and catering industry. It is terrible and nobody should be subjected to it. Sexual harassment, abuse and assault is NEVER acceptable. However, it unfortunately occurs, as powerfully evidenced by the #metoo campaign. 

The industry needs systemic change to realize its full potential and become an attractive industry to work in. While some may see, the behavior associated with sexual harassment as harmless horseplay, others see it as violation of their dignity. The social partners are paying more attention to issues of third-party violence and harassment in their efforts to improve workplace conditions, as sexual harassment may have negative consequences not only for the direct victims but also for their families and co-workers, as well as for organizations and society at large.

Waiters and other frontline staff seem to be the occupational groups most prone to sexual harassment, with almost half of all respondents in that category reporting such experiences. Among the most common acts of harassment are sexually suggestive comments and obscene language and jokes.

Young women in part-time employment are most vulnerable

The tourism sector embraces many different organizations and workplaces, including hotels, motels, campsites, restaurants, bars, clubs, cafeterias, canteens and other catering establishments, as well as travel agencies, information offices, conference centers and exhibition halls. Sexual harassment, including unwanted attention or intimidation of a sexual nature, appears to be experienced widely in the industry. In surveys conducted by our member unions illustrate that around between 35% of all workers in the hotel and restaurant sector have experienced sexual harassment, and the number is closer to 60% for women working in frontline service such as waiters, baristas and bartenders. 

Sexual harassment affects people regardless of age, relationship, ability, physical appearance, background or professional status. Sexual harassment does not affect women alone: men can also be victims. However, women are more vulnerable due to their position in the labour market and see harassment as a greater threat than men.

The victims often have characteristics that make them vulnerable in the labour market and therefore unlikely to report sexual harassment out of fear of losing their job.

Many risk factors in the hotel and restaurant sector

There have been identified various causes and risk factors for the high incidence of sexual harassment in the tourism industry including: 

  • Alcohol and drugs creates a hostile environment and intoxicated customers that may lead to misbehaviour and unpleasant language. 
  • Long and irregular working hours, involving evenings, nights & holidays.
  • Unsecure and precarious working conditions.
  • ”The guest is always right” mentality.
  • High degree of social contact attracts sociable, energetic, and outgoing personal to the industry. General hospitality is frequently misjudged and perceived as invitation of sexual advances.
  • Sexualised environment can encourage customers to treat employees in certain service occupations as sex objects rather than workers.
  • Tipping, especially where workers rely on their customers for their income.

How to stop sexism and sexual harassment at the workplace?

In recent years, there has been growing awareness among Nordic trade unions in the tourism sector of sexual harassment being a serious health and safety problem. A systemic change is necessary for the industry to realize its full potential and make it an attractive industry to work in.

The social partners within the tourism industry at the Nordic and European level need to join forces to address the problem, raise awareness, and create safe working environments. The first step is to work towards a common understanding about the issue and develop joint guidelines, recommendations and strategies how to prevent sexism and sexual harassment in the industry. 

According to EU and national law in the Nordic countries, both employers and workers have obligations with regard to health and safety at the workplace. The main responsibility for preventing sexual harassment lies with employers, who must provide their employees with a safe working environment and ensure their workers’ health and safety. However, in practice, a joint approach to health and safety is the most successful.

Workplace prevention is a crucial factor in trade unions’ fight against sexual harassment in the tourism sector, as experience shows that it can be difficult to stop it by means of legislation and court cases alone. The advantage of workplace mechanisms over legislation is that they are primarily preventative. Rather than being confined to responding to sexual harassment, they are intended to ensure that it does not happen. Effective workplace policies protect employees by discouraging potential harassers by identifying, reducing, mapping and mitigating sexual harassment.

Checklist for employees

If you or someone else in your workplace is subjected to sexual harassment: 

  1. Take it seriously and speak out if you feel abused/harassed. You have the right to feel safe at your workplace. 

  2. Write down what happened. What was said, when did it happen and how did you experience the situation? Keep any ’evidence’, for example offensive text messages or emails. 

  3. Tell your employer or your immediate superior what happened. You can also talk to a safety representative or a shop steward. 

  4. Report the incident. Initially, you should report it to your employer or immediate superior. If that does not work, contact us at the union. Depending on the nature of the incident, you can also report it to the police.  

Remember, it is your employer’s duty to ensure that your work environment is good. You can contact us at the union at any time if you need advice and support.

Summary of main findings in the Nordic HRCT sector:

  • The tourism industry is highly exposed to sexual and moral harassment behaviors on the part of customers, and frontline staff in restaurants and bars are especially exposed. 
  • Alcohol is a serious risk factor, and workers in occupations where alcohol is served are most vulnerable to sexual harassment.
  • Many workers experience harassment more than once a month. 
  • Most workers find sexual harassment offensive, although around 35% do not find it so.
  • Women tend to see sexual harassment as more offensive than men do. 
  • Sexual harassment causes absenteeism from work.  
  • Many victims never report sexual harassment.

The attached report is partly the result of the conference.

The aim of this report is to provide information and strategies for how to raise awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace and on how to eradicate it. Employers and workers have a shared responsibility for health and safety at work. However, the main responsibility for preventing any form of harassment lies with employers, who have a statutory duty to provide a safe working environment and safeguard the health and safety of their employees.

Report on sexual harassment - DA
Report on sexual harassment - ENG
Report on sexual harassment - FI
Report on sexual harassment - NO
Report on sexual harassment - SV


Nordisk Union
C/o 3F
Kampmannsgade 4
1790 København V

Se på kort


+45 88 92 13 63
+45 88 92 13 54
[email protected]


The Nordic Union for Hotel, Restaurant, Catering and Tourism sector, is an association of unions in Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, all of which unionise workers of the HRCT industry. The member unions have all made collective agreements with employers organizations and companies in the NU HRCT.

All in all NU HRCT covers seven unions with a total of about 115,000 members.