Sexual Harassment is a Major Problem for New York's "Gig Economy" Workers

The so-called gig economy has been a boon to many New Yorkers who have chosen to forego traditional employment in favor of more flexible working arrangements. Freelancing and self-employment also carry certain legal risks. For one thing, a freelancer does not have the same protections as traditional employees under federal and state employment discrimination laws.

Survey: 54% of Freelance Women Harassed

Yet this does not mean such discrimination does not affect freelancers. To the contrary, a number of recent studies suggest that misconduct such as sexual harassment is rampant in the gig economy. HoneyBook, a popular online platform for freelancers who work in event planning, recently released the results of a voluntary study of its own users on this subject. While not a scientific study, as users chose to self-report, HoneyBook's findings are nevertheless eye-opening.

According to the survey, 54% of “self-employed and freelance women reported they have been harassed at least once.” This is slightly higher than the share of women who report similar harassment in traditional employment (about 48%). More than three-fourths of respondents–77%–said sexual harassment took the form of “unprofessional comments” on their appearance. Similarly, 76% reported they “have been called demeaning nicknames,” while 60% reported they were the victims of “physical intimidation.”

Unfortunately, 83% of respondents who were harassed “did not report it to anyone.” Among those who did complain to some sort of authority, more than half were “ignored.” These numbers are not surprising given that freelancers are among the most vulnerable workers in the economy. Keep in mind, gig economy workers often rely heavily on word-of-mouth and formal rating systems (via online platforms like HoneyBook) to attract new business. A client may respond to a sexual harassment complaint by leaving feedback, which in turn can prevent a struggling self-employed professional from finding new work.

Freelancer Rights Under NYC Law

Federal and New York State law provides little if any protection for freelancers, who are classified as “independent contractors” and thus not covered by most traditional employment discrimination laws. However, that does not mean that freelance workers cannot take action to protect their own interests. You can insist upon anti-harassment and anti-discrimination language in private contracts that you sign with potential clients. Indeed, many gig economy platforms like HoneyBook offer such clauses when using their service to arrange freelance jobs.

If you live in New York City, you should also be aware of your rights under the recently enacted Freelance Isn't Free Act. This law requires all freelance contracts worth at least $800 to be in writing and signed by both parties. Although not required by law, such contracts may incorporate additional terms to protect the freelancer against harassment or other discriminatory conduct. In addition, if a client attempts to retaliate against a freelancer for exercising his or her rights under the Act, the city can take legal action.

If you have any questions about your rights as a self-employed worker or need any other assistance from a qualified New York employment attorney, contact Nisar Law Group, P.C. today.


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