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Do freelancers have protection from sexual harassment?

On Behalf of | Aug 18, 2021 | Employment Law |

As the economy recovers from recession, people are gradually easing back into the workforce in hybrid-remote set-ups, full-time at the office or other arrangement. In the freelance world, opportunities abound as online markets and gig economy websites job postings increased throughout 2020, and with 57 million freelancers and rising, the industry now makes up close to 5% of the U.S. GPD.

But how well does the law protect New York City freelancers from workplace discrimination or sexual harassment? Knowing what federal and state protections are in place is a first step toward fighting for your rights if you have experienced harassment.

What federal laws protect employees?

There are federal protections against sexual harassment outlined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which cover incidents targeting male or female workers who have either experienced or witnessed the offensive conduct from a superior, a co-worker, a client or a customer, and whose grievance is not limited to economic injury or dismissal.

Although these protections essentially create a strong template for state and local governments to follow regarding illegal workplace discrimination, they unfortunately do not protect independent contractors and freelancers. Title VII also only applies to businesses employing 15 or more workers as well as to government and labor organizations.

What local laws apply?

An amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), implemented on January 11, 2020, expands the protections already enjoyed by employees to freelancers and independent contractors. The statute does not differentiate between classifications of workers under the City Human Rights Law, and applies regardless of whether the work is contractual, frequent or infrequent, short- or long-term, or onsite.

Under the new law, freelancers and independent contractors receive protections from employment discrimination, harassment and retaliation by companies who have hired them.

There is liability for companies if the inappropriate conduct occurred while the individual worked there and the company not only was aware of the conduct but did nothing to stop it.

There is also liability for online platforms or apps that either engage in discrimination, or are aware of a client or customer who engages in unlawful discrimination of an independent contractor or freelancer and does not address the conduct.

Independent contractors and freelancers, as well as the companies that hire them, must complete annual sexual harassment prevention training if they work there more than 90 days or 80 hours in a calendar year.