I’ve written a lot about sexual harassment of vulnerable workers – that they are more likely to suffer sexual assault and harassment.

Workers are “vulnerable” to discrimination and harassment for many reasons and in many situations, mostly evidenced by their powerlessness and the low status of their jobs. For example, they may fear running afoul of immigration laws; they may be unable to speak English; they may be physically isolated in the job, be it in a field or a warehouse; or perhaps they are mentally challenged.

Agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable; an earlier EEOC press release notes that “Combating discrimination against agricultural workers [is] … one of the priorities under the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”): protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers.”

As I noted earlier – think Henry’s Turkey workers who were ripe for exploitation. Real, egregious exploitation based upon their disabilities.

“Henry, where are you???”

And think about the settled EEOC case where two potato packing companies in Colorado allegedly permitted the sexual harassment of female workers by a supervisor – they had to pay $450,000 to settle the lawsuit.

And in another case, the EEOC obtained a federal jury verdict in Florida of $850,000 on behalf of a female farmworker at a strawberry farm who allegedly was raped by her supervisor and reported it to police and management that same day. The company, however, failed to

properly investigate the complaint, and instead sent the victim home from work without pay the next work day. … [and] took no action against the harasser, leaving him to supervise women in the fields, despite evidence that this was not the first complaint of sexual harassment. Instead, [it] retaliating against the victim and forced her to take a leave of absence.

PANIC BUTTONS FOR HOSPITALITY WORKERS

We’ve seen states and towns passing mandatory sexual anti-harassment training. That’s great. But we’ve also seen workers and others working on ways to combat sexual harassment of vulnerable workers in the hospitality industry – another dangerous place for vulnerable workers.

I saw a news item awhile ago from Seattle about a union local which fought to protect hotel and hospitality workers from guests sexually harassing room cleaning and service staff. They accomplished the passing of a law in 2016 which requires, among other things, that hotels with 60 or more rooms must issue “panic buttons” to employees who work alone in guest rooms.

Similar laws or ordinances have since passed, most recently in New York and New Jersey (as well as Chicago, Sacramento, Long Beach, CA and Miami Beach). And panic buttons have also been the subject of collective bargaining agreements.

TOOLKIT FOR AGRICULTURAL WORKERS

Now, and again from the Seattle area, as Mai Hoang reports out of Yakima, two professors from the University of Washington working with a group called The Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center have developed a toolkit “aimed to address sexual harassment in the agricultural workplace.”

Entitled “¡Basta! Preventing Sexual Harassment in Agriculture,” the toolkit is:

a bilingual resource that provides training for farmworkers, supervisors and growers. The training includes a video, guide and worksite materials and covers reporting incidents, respecting workers and creating a worksite policy compliant with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines.

Ms. Hoang notes that “[t]he toolkit is available for a minimal fee through the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center. Their website is:  https://deohs.washington.edu/pnash/sexual-harassment.”

Takeaway

The EEOC has prioritized protecting vulnerable workers through enforcing compliance with existing anti-discrimination laws. And other, more local laws have proliferated which require employers to take steps to combat harassment of all kinds.

But now such workers and their advocates are becoming empowered into taking matters into their own hands – a welcome and necessary development.