Legislation will protect and empower low-wage workers who are abused on the job.
SACRAMENTO – California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego) is again taking on the issue of workplace sexual harassment that affects low-wage, private sector workers with the introduction of two bills in the legislature’s first week back to the Capitol.
Assembly Bills 170 and 171 will hold employers responsible for ensuring a safe work environment, respectively, by making companies jointly liable when temporary or contracted workers are harassed while on the job and by creating a presumption of retaliation when workers are fired after reporting sexual harassment.
“It’s time that the transformative changes driven by the #MeToo movement made a difference in the lives of all women, not just those in Hollywood or the halls of Capitol,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “Janitors, hotel and restaurant workers, service workers and immigrants continue to be exploited and harassed at work while their employers deny responsibility. Workplace protections should extend to all women, no matter their economic standing, access to an attorney or level of existing power.”
Three-quarters of the workers in low-wage jobs are women. A large portion of these workers are prone to becoming targets of abuse due to their immigration status, their isolated working conditions and because they might not be aware of their rights and protections under the law.
This issue is more pervasive than the number of complaints currently filed reflects, with an estimated 60 percent of workers found to have experienced sexual harassment while on the job but have not reported it. Not only does lack of awareness of their rights prevent these workers from reporting harassment, they might also fear losing their jobs out of retaliation for filing a complaint.
In the case that an employee files a harassment complaint claiming a violation of their rights and protections, AB 171 would establish a rebuttable presumption of unlawful retaliation if an employer in any way discriminates against the employee within the 90-day period after the complaint is filed.
Under Gonzalez’s AB 170, employers would be required to share civil legal responsibility and civil liability for all workers who are provided by a contractor in cases of sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination.