Independent contractors have long been excluded from many traditional employees’ anti-discrimination protections. Thankfully, New York State and New York City have recently expanded sexual harassment protection to eligible independent contractors and freelancers. Now independent contractors can bring legal claims for sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment of independent contractors does occur. If you’ve been subjected to sexual harassment as an independent contractor in New York City, it’s important you understand your rights. You may be entitled to compensation through an employment lawsuit against your employer. The New York City employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP know how to hold employers accountable for sexual harassment in the workplace. Contact Lipsky Lowe LLP today to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more about how we can advocate for you.
Examples of Unlawful Sexual Harassment of Independent Contractors
Under recent expansions of state and local anti-discrimination laws, New York City employers are required to protect independent contractors from sexual harassment. Employers must protect contractors, vendors, subcontractors, consultants, independent contractors, and anyone else providing services in their business from sexual harassment. Specifically, companies must respond to complaints that independent contractors have been sexually harassed at their workplaces or job sites.
Even if the independent contractor isn’t on the company organizational chart and is not considered a traditional employee, employers are still legally obligated to prevent and stop sexual harassment from happening. All of the following non-traditional workers are protected under local and state anti-discrimination laws:
- A full-time employee is sexually harassed by a janitor who is an independent contractor
- A contracted maintenance worker is exposed to dirty jokes while working at the business
- A manager offers a temporary worker a full-time position in exchange for providing sexual favors
- A remote worker receives a sexually explicit message from his or her teammate
- A short-term contract employee is exposed to pornography by a supervisor
New York State Protections for Independent Contractors
In the past, independent contractors who experienced sexual harassment would be excluded from legal protection. In recent years, state and local legislators have extended significant workplace-related protections for independent contractors. In 2019, the New York State Human Rights Law added anti-discrimination protections for non-employees, such as contractors, subcontractors, consultants, vendors, temporary workers, “gig” workers, and other non-employee persons providing services according to their employment contracts.
As a result, independent contractors now have a right to pursue claims for workplace harassment, discrimination, and retaliation under NYSHRL. This change is impactful when considered together with recently lowered standards for proving claims of sexual harassment. It’s now easier for employees to successfully bring claims against their employers for sexual harassment in New York State. Previously, these new protections at the state level only applied to businesses with four or more employees. As of 2020, these protections cover all businesses operating in New York.
Protection Against Sexual Harassment for Independent Contractors in New York City
The New York City Council also amended the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) to add additional protection for independent contractors and freelance workers. On January 11, 2020, the amendments became law. The amendments clarified that these types of workers are now entitled to the same anti-sexual harassment protections as traditional employees.
To clarify the amendments, the New York City Commission on Human Rights released a factsheet clarifying the new law for employers who retain independent contractors and freelancers. Independent contractors are now required to receive annual sexual harassment prevention training when they do enough work with the company to meet the threshold. Under this new measure, businesses with 15 or more employees must provide annual sexual harassment prevention training. This requirement has been extended to independent contractors when the following requirements have been met where the contractor works:
- For an employer of 15 or more people
- More than 80 hours in a calendar year, and
- For at least 90 days, which don’t need to be consecutive
New York City employers with 15 or more workers must assess whether any independent contractors qualify for annual sexual harassment prevention training. They are required to take steps to implement the training within the year and can be held accountable if they do not.
New York City Has One of the Most Expansive Anti-Discrimination Laws
Independent contractors can now enforce their rights under one of the country’s most expansive workplace anti-discrimination laws. The NYCHRL offers unique protections not provided under federal or New York state laws. For example, the NYCHRL extends protections to more protected classes than the federal and state laws, such as:
- Sexual and reproductive health decisions
- Caregiver status
- Unemployment status
Holding Employers Accountable
New York city and state employees must ensure that contractors working for them are treated lawfully in light of these changes. All employees, including independent contractors, must be treated following state and local anti-harassment laws. New York City employers must protect workers from unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
What to Do If You’ve Experienced Sexual Harassment on the Job Site
If you weren’t a traditional employee at your workplace, you might not know where to turn if you’ve experienced unlawful sexual harassment. It’s important to remember that your employer and the business that operates the worksite are both required to take reasonable action to provide you with a harassment-free work site. As an independent contractor, you may have more options for addressing your concerns.
If you are unsure whether you have a legal claim, we recommend discussing your case with an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you understand your legal options and whether you have a legal claim against your employer for sexual harassment.
Contact an NYC Employment Attorney
Have you experienced gender discrimination in the form of sexual harassment while working as an independent contractor in New York City? The experienced employment attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP are here to help. We know how to hold employers accountable for unlawful sexual harassment against independent contractors, traveling professionals, and gig workers. Contact Lipsky Lowe LLP today to schedule a free case evaluation.