One year into the #MeToo movement, there’s an underreported barrier to supporting victims: Many workers are still not legally protected from sexual harassment.
Federal law—specifically, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act—recognizes two categories of workplace harassment. There’s quid pro quo sexual harassment, when a boss, supervisor, or anyone in a position of authority with hiring or firing abilities pressures a subordinate for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or raise, or to avoid dismissal. And there’s a hostile work environment created by severe or pervasive harassment, which could include repeated lewd comments and off-color jokes, unwanted sexual advances, or even sexual assault.
But even if one of these descriptions fits your experience to a T, you might not get your day in court.
Let’s say you work as a day laborer at a family farm. In that case, you’re out of luck on a few counts. Title VII does not apply to workers in small businesses, defined as those with fewer than 15 employees. Agricultural and domestic workers are also excluded, as they are from many other civil and labor rights and benefits such as Social Security. Under the Supreme Court decision Murray v. Principal Financial Group, Inc., moreover, contractors are not considered “employees,” and are responsible for their own working conditions.