Servers harassed into wearing high heels despite health risks

Jun 15, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. ET

Servers from three different restaurant chains in Canada have come forward to say they were told to wear high heels or find other jobs.

Aside from being completely sexist and exploitative, forcing female employees into high heels to earn a living is discriminatory and despicable.

Servers from Moxie’s, Boston Pizza and Original Joe's have come forward to Global News in Calgary to expose the sexist and discriminatory mandatory high heels policy.

Heather Turgeon is a waitress at Original Joe's but has decided to quit based on a new mandatory high heels policy introduced a couple of weeks ago. She says one of her co-workers brought in a doctor’s note saying she couldn’t wear high heels and was told by management, "If you can’t wear the uniform, then you can’t work."

Christie Florence was a waitress at Boston Pizza in 2014 and says she’s still suffering with discomfort after being forced to wait tables in high heels.

"I was required at Boston Pizza to wear 1- to 2-inch heels at all times, whether working in the lounge or the family restaurant side," she said. "I ended up losing feeling in my big toes and haven’t regained some of that feeling."

To literally add insult to injury, Florence says she was told by management, "The higher the heels, the better the tips."

According to former hostess Anja Micic, another Calgary restaurant called Moxie’s forced "every single girl" to wear heels.

For their part, the corporate companies behind the chain restaurants deny the policies are in place. Good thing, because forcing employees to wear high heels despite a doctor’s note would definitely be discrimination based on a disability. Even without a doctor’s note, Canadian lawyer Paula Kay says a company with a mandatory high heels policy would be opening themselves up for a lawsuit.

"I think an employer is going to have a difficult time saying that high heel shoes are a bona fide occupational requirement," Kay says. "I think it’s probably going to make you less efficient at your work … carrying food and drinks around to tables."

But aside from the legal implications, this is just another example of how low-wage-earning women are exploited every single day.

Sure, in this instance a media outlet happened to listen to these women’s complaints, but what are the chances a woman working as a server at Boston Pizza can afford to hire an attorney to protect her rights? She’ll likely just put up with crummy treatment for as long as she can and then find another job, hopefully one with better working conditions.

According to research from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, more than 70 percent of servers in the U.S. are women, and 90 percent of those women working in restaurants experience sexual harassment on a regular basis. The restaurant industry also has the dubious distinction of being the sector with the most sexual harassment claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"The culture of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry isn’t an accident," according to researcher Saru Jayaraman, who wrote a report called The Glass Floor for ROC United. "We can point directly to the subminimum wage and the fact that the majority of people living off tips are women and their take-home pay is inextricably linked to enduring vile behavior from customers, co-workers, and bosses."

Worse yet, waitressing and other tipped restaurant jobs are a typical first job for a young woman, causing her to just accept sexual harassment as “just part of the job,” according to Jayaraman.

You don’t have to look very far to see examples of this kind of sexual exploitation and harassment of servers and restaurant workers. Just this weekend at a local burger joint, I watched a young, lovely server wriggle uncomfortably out of the drunken embrace of just another patron looking to cop a feel off a young girl. And although I was disgusted, I certainly didn’t say anything. I didn’t stand up for her.

I should have.

Getting harassed should never be part of the job.

The next time you’re in a restaurant, take a second to look around and see how the servers are being treated. And let's stop spending our money at establishments like these that exploit women trying to earn a buck.

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