Newby: Who the federal law is forgetting in anti-sexual-harassment protection

Federal law leaves out a large portion of the the working population from protection against harassment.

Taylor Newby, Opinion Columnist

The #MeToo Movement entered the media’s scrutinizing spotlight with immeasurable grit, grace, and resilience. And today, the movement continues to testify to the power people possess in using their pain and experiences as a platform.

As countless people have come forward in the last year, voices of both men and women rallying together have called communities into fighting for more lasting change.

As the momentum of the movement remains just as intense as when it began, it’s less about merely pressing into the conversation and more about making room for deeply rooted action; it’s about taking the conversation a step further in pushing for policy change and protection for all people everywhere.

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A large portion of America’s working population has been left out of the protection of the federal law against harassment because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only applies to employers with companies who have 15 employees or more. In addition, because freelancers aren’t considered to be employed, they are left without protection from anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws.

According to the New York Times, there have been 201 powerful men brought down by the #MeToo Movement in this last year — exemplifying even more so that people have the power to invoke change by sharing their stories.

Yet still, sexual harassment is far from being permanently erased from the workplace. And a large number of the working population remain unprotected because federal law still does not fully protect those who work freelance.

The conversation the #MeToo Movement has made room for has wrung out some of the abusive liars and hidden perpetrators who clog corporate companies, social structures of political powerhouses, heightened Hollywood names, esteemed athletics trainers, among others. But still, stories of survivors continue to flood social media.

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Prevention of harassment in the workplace must come paired with protection for all people, and there’s a devastatingly large portion of people in the workplace who have been left out.

And when there’s a gap in who is guarded, there is more ground to be covered. The gap: freelance. Nearly 60 million Americans are working freelance — being 36 percent of the American workforce. Meaning, that’s a massive number of people to be unprotected from both discrimination and harassment.

Because people who are working as freelancers are considered to be independent contractors, they aren’t protected by anti-harassment or anti-discrimination laws. Meaning, they aren’t able to file sexual-harassment complaints with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Which, according to Market Watch, serves as a first step in taking a situation further.

Market Watch advises, “Our defense for freelancers, put it in the contract.”

It’s unbelievably devastating that men and women have to be encouraged to diligently sift through contracts and agreements in order to determine whether they are protected from harassment. And while the #MeToo Movement has carried the conversation of sexual violence into courtrooms and invoked consistent accountability and change, we must remain productive in fighting to protect the population of millions of people left out of workplace policy and the protection of federal law.

Because what has been made apparent in the removing of 201 men from their powerful positions at the hand of the #MeToo Movement is that America is listening and action is being taken. We are the movement.

So — it’s time we steward our voice, the most valuable weapon we have to hone, and take it a step further. It’s time to vote.