5 Tips to Help You Fight Sexual Harassment As An Independent Contractor
By Erin P.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem that needs to be addressed. As our workforce changes and becomes one of outsourced providers and independent contractors, I hope that laws will be made to protect these workers, providing some recourse besides “just drop the client”. Whether a personal assistant, personal accountant, or a personal anything, no one should ever be harassed, and no one should ever feel the degradation of continuing an inappropriate working relationship due to concerns over a paycheck.
I have been sexually harassed more times than I care to recall. As an independent contractor, I have acted as a personal assistant to many powerful individuals, and have found myself essentially running their personal lives.
I’ve created dating profiles for my clients. I’ve seen them naked. I’ve had to listen to stories about their sex lives. One of my clients, for example, told me how important it was for me to develop my fellatio skills, because his best relationship was with an individual who could give could good “deep throat”. I also have been solicited for sex, inappropriately touched, and even asked for my hand in marriage. The proposal? I could bang whomever I wanted and have an allowance, but I would belong to this individual. Charming, no? These probably should have been considered red flags, right? I probably should have quit immediately, right? Yeah, probably - but that would leave me with no income, and it’s hard to diversify a client base when 1) I work full time for one person. 2) I can’t provide a reference to a new prospect without letting on that I’m looking to move on. And, 3) If I want to press charges for sexual harassment, the burden of proof falls on me, and I am pitted against a rich white male and his high-paid attorney. Quite the pickle. So, instead of the above, I only asserted myself as a professional who would not stand for this type of behavior. This initially was hard for me as I did not have the language or the confidence to tell the douche to back off…
And that pissed me off. It pisses me off as I write this. As someone who lives in retrospect, I simply cannot allow for more women to be hurt. At the time of these instances of wildly inappropriate behavior, I would “politely” decline the advance – as many women might also react. Ladies, this does not really leave an impression on the individual. You must identify the harassment and assert your boundaries.
Here are some tips for anyone who might be sexually harassed without an HR department backing them up:
1. Before accepting the gig, write up your own contract, including sexual harassment parameters, and ask the client to sign it. You can find guides for this here. I think it is important to include exactly what is considered harassment, how it will be handled (writing down what happened, dating it, and both of you signing it), and what will occur if it happens more than once. It’s imperative this is signed BEFORE you accept the gig. I did this in my office after another woman had been solicited for sex on the first day of her job. After I posted my own policy, my boss took it down. Yes, I worked for slime. If they will not sign it, you’ve still got to set very clear boundaries, write them down yourself and sign it. Any way to document your position is helpful!
2. In an instance of harassment – which means that you feel uncomfortable enough to think “Is this harassment?”) – say right then, “I feel uncomfortable. This needs to stop now.”
3. After you identify the problem and stop it, let the individual know you will be documenting the harassment, dating it, and both of you will be signing the paperwork.
4. If it happens again, report the individual.
5. I hate to even include this, but if any situation continues, or if your client gets belligerent and it seems like it is getting way stickier than anticipated, call the police.
None of this is legal advice, but has some legal grounding. Consult an attorney if you think it would help strengthen your policy.
Women: many of us thrive in caretaking roles, yet we are often paid poorly in an employment setting in this field. While some independent contractor jobs can be quite lucrative, it can sometimes come with some nasty situations. I hope this short article gets you thinking and stops one asshole from thinking professional caretakers are somehow there for fun. Perhaps this will spark some ideas about how we can protect the growing class of workers who are expected to create their own ethics on a per-client basis.
Erin P. is a mother, wife, and activist. In her “spare time,” she runs her own fitness facility, champions fair trade fashion accessories, is pursuing a graduate degree, and eating a lot of chips. She believes passion and communication are essential for success in an American life and hopes that developing complicated and thought through dialogue (over a bowl of chips) in all complicated matters will le