Majority of freelance women cite harassment, survey says; Congresswoman introducing bill to protect independent contractors

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Honeybook, a provider of a customer relationship management platform for freelance creative workers, said in a blog post last week that 54% of self-employed and freelance women report they have been sexually harassed at least once. That’s greater than the 48% in the overall female workforce. Separately, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, also announced last week she would introduce a bill to apply federal anti-discrimination protections to independent contractors.

Honeybook’s cited its own survey of 1,087 self-employed creatives, 97% of whom were women.

Of those surveyed, 77% said they received unprofessional comments on appearance, and 76% were called demeaning nicknames. However, 82% of respondents who experienced sexual harassment continued working on a project despite the harassment.

Turning to Norton’s proposal, the Congresswoman said her bill comes because some employers use independent contractors to avoid workplace anti-discrimination laws.

“These workers, who often do the same jobs as employees, have few of the protections granted to employees under federal anti-discrimination laws,” Norton said in a statement. “Our anti-discrimination laws were written long before this dramatic shift in the workplace.  Our laws need to catch up and change as the workforce changes.”

Richard Meneghello of law firm Fisher Phillips cited the two announcements in a blog post saying the past week was “a big week when it comes to shining the spotlight on sexual harassment in the gig economy arena.”

However, harassment can also be an issue for temporary workers employed through staffing firms.

On Monday, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that staffing buyer Plastipak Packaging Inc. agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging it violated federal law when by firing temporary employee because she complained about sexual harassment.

Plastipak and a temporary agency jointly employed Carrie Vargas, who was assigned by the agency to work at Plastipak’s Havre de Grace, Md., facility, according to the EEOC. After Vargas rejected sexual advances from a Plastipak employee, that employee repeatedly complained to a supervisor about Vargas’ supposed work infractions. The complaints were typically false, according to the EEOC. Vargas complained to her immediate supervisor that the coworker was sexually harassing her. Instead of doing an investigation, the next morning Plastipak terminated Vargas, EEOC charged.

SIA Director of Legal and Regulatory Research Fiona Coombe recently discussed sexual harassment and the contingent workforce in an article in CWS 3.0.

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