Platforms and Governments Take Steps Toward Sexual Harassment Protections for Freelancers

Platforms and Governments Take Steps Toward Sexual Harassment Protections for Freelancers

The freelance hiring and management platforms Fiverr and AND CO have teamed up to create a new standardized work contract for freelancers that they are calling the first of its kind to include built-in protections against sexual harassment, Ephrat Livni reported at Quartz on Wednesday:

The new contract explicitly states that harassment by clients or staff isn’t tolerated, which may seem obvious but isn’t a fundamental aspect of most freelance arrangements. The agreement also gives freelancers the right to terminate an arrangement if offending behavior continues after the client has been informed of it. A contractor who quits on these grounds must then be paid in full for the project or the month—depending on the terms of their arrangement with the client—and must receive that pay within 30 days.

Sounds decent, right? Well, it is. But it’s also not much, as the companies also admit. “We recognize this is a small step in a much longer journey, but it’s an important one,” they state.

After all, a big problem with harassment in the workplace is that it’s awkward to report in the first place, and all the more so when the perpetrator of the abuse is responsible for the paychecks. Despite the new clauses, contractors who are harassed by the clients who hired them aren’t very likely to feel comfortable demanding that abuses stop—not if they want to work for that client again. And few freelancers who are in an office on a contract basis will find it easy to complain about abusive staff with permanent positions.

These caveats highlight one of the fundamental perils of a labor market in which more workers are self-employed and fewer enjoy the protections that come with a formal employment relationship with a single organization. The #MeToo movement has sparked a long-overdue conversation about sexual harassment and misconduct in US workplaces, which has sent organizations and governments scrambling to find better ways to protect workers against these crimes. Most of these laws and policies, however, focus on employees, with independent contractors getting less robust protection, if indeed they have any at all.

Writing these protections into contracts is one way to help address the abuse of freelancers; another is to enshrine them explicitly in the law.

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Hollywood Women to Sexual Harassers: ‘Time’s Up’

Hollywood Women to Sexual Harassers: ‘Time’s Up’

On January 1, a group of over 300 women in the US entertainment business, including prominent actors like America Ferrera, Eva Longoria, Natalie Portman, and Reese Witherspoon, announced the launch of a massive, nationwide initiative to address sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault in their own workplace as well as other industries. Their effort, entitled Time’s Up, is a leaderless, volunteer-powered campaign to put pressure on employers to take action against harassment, connect victims to legal resources, and protect them from retaliation for speaking out about their experiences of harassment and abuse. As the New York Times’s Cara Buckley reported when the initiative was launched, Time’s Up is starting out with four key components:

  • A legal defense fund, backed by $13 million in donations, to help less privileged women — like janitors, nurses and workers at farms, factories, restaurants and hotels — protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.
  • Legislation to penalize companies that tolerate persistent harassment, and to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims.
  • A drive to reach gender parity at studios and talent agencies that has already begun making headway.
  • And a request that women walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes speak out and raise awareness by wearing black.

Central to the endeavor is a focus not only on the rarefied world of these Hollywood stars, but also—especially—on women who lack their power, privilege, and wealth, such as domestic and agricultural workers, who suffer extensively from sexual harassment and violence in the workplace but often lack the resources to fight back. The Time’s Up legal defense fund, which has by now attracted over $16 million and counting in crowdfunded donations, will be housed at and administrated by the National Women’s Law Center and led by Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, and Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued before the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

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Uber Fires 20 Employees, Including Executives, After Misconduct Investigation

Uber Fires 20 Employees, Including Executives, After Misconduct Investigation

In an unprecedented move, Uber has fired 20 employees and issued warnings or mandatory training to dozens more based on the results of an internal investigation into widespread allegations of discrimination, harassment, bullying, and other misconduct among its 12,000-person workforce. Bloomberg’s Eric Newcomer broke the news on Tuesday:

Law firm Perkins Coie LLP led the investigation, reviewing 215 human-resources claims; while it took no action in 100 instances, it’s still probing 57 others. There’s also a separate investigation commissioned by Uber that’s being led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. That group shared detailed findings with a subcommittee of Uber’s board of directors, but a summary isn’t expected to be made public until next week, a person familiar with the matter said. Uber also plans to take action on some of the report’s findings next week, the person said. …

Some of the people fired were senior executives, according to the person, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters. The company didn’t name the employees who were let go.

Perkins Coie’s investigations are not over, Bobbie Wilson, the attorney leading the effort, tells Recode’s Kara Swisher, and more employees may yet be disciplined. Wilson says that Uber gave the firm “unfettered access to current and former employees” as well as some 600,000 internal documents:

“We were very dogged about the investigation,” said [Wilson], who did not break out the categories of corporate misbehavior. “We were a very neutral fact-finder and let chips fall where they may.” But those chips are still falling, she added, noting that the investigation continues to root out bad behavior at Uber. … That means there are likely to be more firings, as well as disciplinary actions, at the company. …

The process included interviews with those who complained and those who were accused, as well as any relevant witnesses. After that, said Wilson, “we made recommendations to the company and they abided by them.” Among the 20 fired were senior execs, sources said, although Wilson did not disclose specific names.

“Sometimes an allegation was not sustained or was resolved between the parties,” said Wilson, who noted that the goal was to help employees feel heard. “One of the reasons you bring in an outside investigator, no question, is that you want people to have faith in the process and, frankly, they are often more comfortable about being frank with us.”

Experts in employment law are astonished at the scale of Uber’s decision. “This is enormous,” one attorney told the Washington Post:

“For corporate allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct to lead to firing 20 people, I know of no comparable corporate action. It’s unprecedented,” said Debra Katz, a partner with Katz Marshall & Banks, a Washington-based firm specializing in representing employees who bring sexual harassing claims against companies. “This is a significant action by Uber to give a strong message to take these actions seriously.”

Katz said Uber’s decision cast doubt on earlier comments by board member Arianna Huffington, who is on a committee overseeing Uber’s workplace culture and who had said that Uber had “some bad apples” but that the company’s problems were not systemic. “This seems to suggest that they cannot simply say it’s only a few bad apples here.”

In addition, Uber executives are now being much more forthright about the troubling cultural roots behind these findings of widespread misconduct. The Wall Street Journal reports that Uber’s head of diversity, Bernard Coleman, said at a public event on Tuesday that the company’s culture issues are likely related the company focusing more on its product than its workplace as it grew. He likened the present effort to fix Uber’s culture to trying to “retrofit” a house “to make it the place you know it should be,” and acknowledged that the size of the company and widespread inexperience of its managers (63 percent have no prior management experience) have made that process more difficult. Diversity and inclusion training is on the way as well, explained Coleman, as is a team-by-team inclusion index for the company.

Bloomberg‘s Newcomer also notes that Bozoma Saint John, one of two executives recently hired to help Uber repair its reputation and reform its culture after a tumultuous and scandal-ridden six months, will serve as the ridesharing company’s chief brand officer, focusing on changing its image and crafting its brand story. She is now the highest ranking black executive at Uber.