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.
Uber announced on Tuesday that it would no longer require employees, drivers, or customers who experience sexual harassment on the job or while using the ride-sharing service to adjudicate their claims in arbitration proceedings. Coming in response to pressure from former employees and customers, the change will allow alleged victims of sexual harassment in the US to pursue claims against the company in court. Uber will also no longer bind accusers to confidentiality requirements as a condition of receiving a settlement on the company, though it will continue to keep financial details of such settlements confidential.
In a blog post, Uber’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West said the company would also publish a public safety transparency report including data on sexual assaults and other incidents that take place on its platform.
Hours after Uber’s announcement, Lyft also announced that it was waiving its standard arbitration agreement for sexual assault claims and would no longer impose confidentiality requirements on alleged victims of sex crimes, Recode’s Johana Bhuiyan reported later on Tuesday. Lyft also intends to release a safety report on sexual assault complaints it receives on its platform; Lyft COO Jon McNeil wrote on Twitter later Tuesday afternoon that his company would be happy to work together with Uber on this reporting project.
West said Uber had made its decision in the interest of transparency, but also acknowledged the risk the company was taking in being more open about these allegations (albeit a risk mitigated to some extent by the participation of its chief competitor):
Since March, Nike has been conducting a massive overhaul of its company culture, executive leadership, and HR practices after a covert survey of female employees revealed widespread patterns of sexual harassment, discrimination, and hostile work environments for women. As the New York Times recently reported in a major story reviewing the upheaval, this toxic culture was driving talented women out the door. In recent months, several high-level male executives at Nike have left the company amid the scandal.
Some of these executives stand accused of engaging in sexist practices themselves; others do not, but have been faulted for failing to address employees’ concerns, creating the perception of an executive “boys’ club” in which male managers were protected from consequences for their misbehavior. Another key theme in the Times‘ report is the Nike women’s dissatisfaction with the response they received from HR.
Nike CEO Mark Parker has moved quickly to bring the situation under control and assure employees that the company is taking its culture problems seriously. At an all-company meeting last Thursday, Parker admitted that he and other executives had missed signs of the problems that have come to light recently, apologized to the affected employees, and promised a thorough investigation into their complaints, along with changes to the company’s training and compensation practices to make them more inclusive, particularly toward women.
While Parker and his executive team will be responsible for making these needed changes to Nike’s culture and practices, none of these changes would be possible without the women employees who took the initiative to bring the company’s problems to light. One important takeaway from this story, therefore, is the power and promise of employee-led D&I initiatives.
Since last year, the #MeToo movement has blown a hole in the shroud of secrecy that has long surrounded the scourge of sexual harassment at companies of all forms, sizes, and industries, both in the US and around the world. Yet just as the public consciousness of this issue is growing, more sexual harassment complaints are being handled behind closed doors than in the past. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and equivalent state agencies received 41 percent fewer complaints in 2017 than they did in 1997, Bloomberg’s Jeff Green points out—not because fewer employees are getting harassed, but rather because companies have become much more likely to handle these matters internally:
Ninety-five percent of companies now have an in-house complaint process, the Society for Human Resource Management said in a January report. Eighty-two percent have an investigation protocol in place. …
At the company level, HR departments don’t always know the extent of their own problems. The same SHRM report found a wide disconnect between what HR sees and what employees are saying. Three out of four non-manager employees who experienced harassment said they did not report it. At the same time, 57 percent of human resource professionals said that unreported sexual harassment occurs “to a small extent.”
Last week, The New York City Council passed a suite of 11 separate bills intended to address the scourge of workplace sexual harassment by providing additional protections for victims and imposing new obligations on organizations to prevent harassment, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The measures include a mandate requiring employers with 15 or more workers to conduct sexual harassment prevention training for all employees at least once a year. Employers in the city will also be required to display an anti-sexual-harassment poster designed by the local government, while prospective contractors will have to detail their anti-harassment policies in their bids for city contracts. City agencies will be obligated to report harassment incidents to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, in order to collect more information on the prevalence of sexual harassment, which the city does not currently know enough about.
Another bill expands sexual harassment protections under the New York City Human Rights Law to employees of organizations with four or fewer employees, meaning all employees will be covered by them. Yet another bill increases the statute of limitations for filing harassment claims from one year to three. (Jackson Lewis attorneys offer a more complete description of the bills at the law firm’s website.)
Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Wednesday signed a suite of legislation that will make it illegal for employers to use non-disclosure agreements and other contractual provisions to stop employees from reporting or discussing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, The Hill reports:
One of the bills Inslee signed would prohibit employers from requiring nondisclosure agreements that would stop individuals from speaking out about sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Another will prevent nondisclosure agreements from barring employee testimony in civil lawsuits relating to assault or harassment claims. That bill also allows those bringing the suits to conduct discovery on previous harassment claims.
Inslee also signed a new law voiding employment contracts and arbitration agreements that preclude an employee from filing assault or harassment complaints outside their companies.
Washington is the first state to take this kind of action in the wake of the #MeToo movement that revealed the still-high prevalence of sexual harassment and misconduct in the American workplace, including the statehouses in Olympia and other capitals.
Around 40 venture capital firms have joined a new project called MovingForward, which “gathers VC commitments to foster a diverse, inclusive, and harassment-free workplace.” Participating venture firms are sharing their own policies against sexual harassment and discrimination, contact points for entrepreneurs to ask questions and report problems, and statements on their efforts to combat harassment and promote diversity and inclusion.
Although not all the participating firms are making both their internal and external policies public, Recode’s Theodore Schleifer reports, the creators of the initiative say they have encouraged several VCs that did not have anti-harassment policies to create them:
Most venture capital funds do not have human resources departments, and even if they have an internal policy that defines and punishes harassment, it generally has only applied internally to their firm — not to the entrepreneurs that they interview and fund. …
“This effort has created a movement within the VC partnerships to do something,” [co-creator Cheryl] Yeoh said, telling Recode that she believed she has set off a “scramble” within venture capital firms to craft policies or identify a contact. She claimed that around half of the firms did not have policies applying to entrepreneurs or publicly identified points of contact before she pitched them.