There are many benefits to working as a freelancer: You can be your own boss, switch up your working environment as you see fit, set your own hours and have more control over who you do and don’t work with.
But with that liberty comes downsides, such as the loss of benefits and legal protection that traditional W-2 employees normally get.
And within the loss of legal protection lies a major problem in the gig economy: If a freelancer is faced with sexual harassment, who can they turn to?
Freelancers don’t have a human resources department to report to, and they can’t file sexual harassment complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In an effort to provide freelancers with more protection, companies Fiverr and And Co have announced a “standardized freelance contract with built-in sexual harassment protections.”
Fiverr and And Co’s Standardized Freelance Contract
When the freelance marketplace Fiverr acquired And Co in January of 2018, not only did they make all of the business software for freelancers, well, free – they also partnered with the Freelancers Union to create standardized contracts that are in compliance with the Freelance Isn’t Free Act.
But in the wake of rising awareness around sexual harassment in the workplace, the company has updated that contract with explicit language to provide more legal protection for freelancers in the case of harassment.
“I think we were really proud of the first version of the standard freelance contract,” says Mario Gabriele, Fiverr and And Co business strategy manager. “But we always knew that it was going to be just a first step… and we had to make sure that as time went on, we evolved with it.”
The language, which will be found in every contract created through And Co, states that any form of harassment will not be tolerated. Sounds pretty obvious, but in reality, this isn’t standard in the gig economy.
It also states that if a safe work environment is not present and any offensive behavior continues after a first notice, the contractor has the right to terminate an arrangement.
If the contractor does end an arrangement because of harassment, they must “be paid in full for the ordered project or for the planned monthly service hours” within 30 days.
One thing to note is that harassment isn’t technically defined in the contract, meaning it’s up to the contractor and client to decide; and if history has shown us anything, it’s that these definitions rarely coincide.
Fiverr and And Co wanted to use language that is both “strong enough to offer some protection, but universal enough that it can be used by all sorts of different folks in different lines of work,” according to Gabriele.
Protection for Freelancers Online and Offline
Online platforms for freelance work, like Fiverr, typically have language concerning sexual harassment in place. Fiverr’s terms of service state that harassment isn’t tolerated and offers an outlet for claims, but this really only applies to freelancers working online.
A 2017 survey showed that just 20% of freelancers used an online platform, and the main use of these marketplaces is to fill in gaps in schedules or find new clients. That means a huge majority of the community is operating offline.
Freelancers operating outside of these monitored online marketplaces can access And Co’s software, including the standardized contract, invoicing and expense tracking, for free.
“This is Fiverr and And Co’s way of trying to make sure that 100% of freelancers are protected,” says Abby Forman, public relations manager at Fiverr.
The Fallout for Freelancers Is High
A recent study by HoneyBook surveyed over 1,000 self-employed members of the creative community, and 54% percent reported to have experienced sexual harassment at least once while conducting freelance work.
Even more disconcerting: 83% of those individuals didn’t report the harassment.
Lack of explicit legal protection and isolated work environments aren’t the only factors — freelancers also have to fear the loss of income.
Retaliation against an employee who complains about sexual harassment is illegal, but — once again — freelancers aren’t privy to that protection.
So, even with this And Co standardized contract that ensures a contractor will be paid for their work, they still have to worry about losing a lucrative client, which could make them wary of reporting harassment.
Fiverr and And Co recognize that this contract “is a small step in a much longer journey,” but it’s a step nonetheless.
“I think more and more businesses are becoming aware of what a big problem it is and that it’s a problem that no one is really isolated from,” says Gabriele. “I think we’ll see more of them realizing that there are things they can do to offer a little bit of extra protection.”
If you experience sexual harassment in the gig economy, know that you are not alone, and that there are steps you can take when turning to an HR department isn’t an option.
And if you’re an assault victim in crisis and need immediate assistance, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Kaitlyn Blount is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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