If you are a traditional employee at a company, the law provides sexual harassment protections to help you assert your right to a fair and safe workplace. Unfortunately, things are often more complicated for independent contractors and freelance professionals. Unlike traditional employees, contractors and freelancers might not have a human resources department to turn to when another employee behaves inappropriately.
The reason for these weaker legal protections is because title VII of the Civil Rights Act specifically protects employees against discrimination based on sex. Contractors lose these protections because they lack official employee status.
Despite weaker protections, these workers still face many of the difficulties that traditional employees do. There are no official sexual harassment numbers for freelance professionals, but there are many horror stories from freelancers who have endured this treatment firsthand. Many people believe that federal and state laws should do more to protect freelancers and contractors from this kind of bad behavior.
Worker Misclassification Can Be One Path to JusticeSometimes courts recognize the issues involved here, and will rule that contractors are operating as de-facto employees. If the court makes this decision, the so-called contractor will receive the benefits of an employee, including gaining an easier path to sue for sexual harassment. There have been several recent prominent worker misclassifications cases against companies such as Uber, as we have seen the rise of the gig economy.
While there are still certainly gaps in protections for freelancers, a skilled employment attorney can still help victims navigate the existing laws to find a pathway forward, whether it’s by worker misclassification or other means.