Are Freelance Workers and Independent Contractors Protected from Sexual Harassment?
| Read Time: 3 minutes | Sexual Harassment

The “gig economy” has impacted all sectors of industry. In recent years, many Californians have chosen or been forced into freelance or contract work over traditional salaried positions. While freelancing offers flexibility and autonomy, it also raises important questions about freelance employees’ protections against sexual harassment. Luckily, California has strict sexual harassment laws. But if you’re a freelancer, you may wonder what freelance employees’ protections against sexual harassment are and whether they apply to you.

The fact is you have a right to a harassment-free workplace. This precept is true regardless of the type of harassment and whether you are a formal or contract employee. Contact us to speak with a California sexual harassment attorney today!

What Is the Difference Between Freelance Workers and Regular Employees?

Freelancers, often labeled “contract workers” or “independent contractors,” are considered their own business and typically work on a project-to-project basis without the traditional benefits and obligations of full-time employment. Except for sexual harassment laws, this also means that most of California’s employment laws don’t apply, including wage and hour laws, family and sick leave, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and disability benefits. Freelancers are also subject to different federal and state tax laws than regular employees. Conversely, salaried employees have a more permanent relationship with their employers, have greater legal protections, and often enjoy benefits like health insurance and paid leave.

Unfortunately, employers sometimes erroneously classify workers who aren’t freelancers as independent contractors to eliminate costs and reduce the time it takes to deal with issues like overtime pay, sick leave, unemployment insurance, and other responsibilities that only apply to regular employees, including federal anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. Because of this, California cracked down on whom employers can classify as contract workers versus regular workers and passed California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), also called “The Gig Worker Bill.” Under AB5, businesses must reclassify independent contractors as employees if they meet specific requirements. This legislative measure ensures that workers receive the legal protections and benefits they are entitled to.  

If you are unsure whether your employer classified you correctly, it’s a good idea to speak with an employment attorney. At King & Siegel LLP, one of our skilled employment advocates can review your job description and help determine whether your employer is affording you the rights and protections your job classification calls for.

What are the Protections Against Sexual Harassment for Contract Workers?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars workplace sexual harassment. However, it only applies to regular employees, not independent contractors. Luckily, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects freelancers against sexual harassment. Specifically, section 12940(j) of the FEHA makes it unlawful for persons to engage in discriminatory harassment against “a person providing services pursuant to a contract.” Freelancers may also hold employers liable for nonemployee sexual harassment, for example, other independent contractors or customers, if the employer knew or should have known about the person’s conduct and neglected to take prompt and suitable remedial action. The FEHA’s expansive definition of “employee” applies to businesses with as few as five employees and ensures that sexual harassment protections for freelance workers apply just as they would for traditional employees.

How Do I Report Sexual Harassment If I am a Freelancer?

Now that you know California maintains sexual harassment protections for freelance workers, you should know how to report it. First and foremost, freelancers in California have the right to report workplace sexual harassment, free from the fear of retaliation. The process for reporting differs based on the contract’s type and the business’s size. However, you can report incidents to your company’s HR department or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH can investigate the claim, mediate, or even file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Freelancers experiencing workplace sexual harassment should also consider consulting an attorney who specializes in employment law. At King & Siegel, our experienced advocates can provide legal advice, direct your next steps, and help you pursue a legal claim against the perpetrator or your employer if necessary.

King & Siegel LLP Will Fight for Your Workplace Rights

At King & Siegel, we’ve dedicated our careers to fighting for freelance employees’ protections against sexual harassment and other employment safeguards. Whether you are a freelance worker or a salaried employee, remember, you don’t need to bear sexual harassment alone. You deserve support, and we’re here to provide it. We are passionate advocates committed to ensuring your employer treats you with the respect and dignity you deserve. Our lawyers have been named Rising Stars by Super Lawyers, have earned perfect AVVO ratings, and have won nearly $15 million in client settlements and verdicts in the short time since establishing our lauded firm. We are dedicated to offering you the same empathetic, effective, and high-quality legal services. Reach out to us for a free 30-minute consultation, and let us explain how we can help you achieve the result you deserve.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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