Articles Posted in Sexual Harassment

In a particularly challenging year for Uber, the company behind the driver-for-hire app has terminated over 20 employees in an effort to deal with accusations of sexual harassment and other issues. On Tuesday, Uber made an internal announcement to its 12,000 employees about the decision, following a long list of complaints from former employees.

215 Workplace Incidents

According to reports, a total of 215 claims of workplace incidents have been filed against Uber. The breakdown of these complaints, in order of frequency, is as follows:

  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Unprofessional behavior
  • Bullying
  • Other types of harassment
  • Retaliation
  • Physical security
  • Wrongful termination

An internal investigation into these claims is currently underway. Since the investigation began, Uber has fired 20 employees, and another seven have received a final warning. According to the ride-hailing tech giant, 57 claims are still under review and no action is being taken in 100 of the claims. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to move forward if you’ve been a victim of workplace sexual harassment.

Blogging about Harassment

Most of the complaints originated in the company’s San Francisco headquarters, but complaints have come from Uber locations across the globe. Following former employee Susan Fowler’s claims on her blog that she experienced gender bias and sexual harassment while working for Uber, the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, launched the internal investigation.

The news of the firings is just the most recent in a string of scandals that have been plaguing Uber for months. Earlier this year, the company’s senior vice president of engineering was asked to resign when Uber discovered that he hadn’t disclosed past allegations of sexual harassment. Ed Baker, another Uber exec, left the company abruptly under unknown circumstances in March.

Technology Theft and Bad Business Practices

And that’s not all. Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, has brought a lawsuit against Uber, accusing the company of stealing its technology. As a result, Anthony Levandowski, an Uber engineer who had previously worked for Google, was fired last month. Beyond the lawsuits and allegations of workplace misconduct, Uber is also battling an image of bad business practices, such as the use of a tool designed for the purpose of evading regulators.

Is Uber in Denial?

“(Fowler’s) blog shocked me,” said Liane Hornsey, the head of Uber’s HR. “But, what did surprise me, was when I did the listening sessions, this didn’t come up as an issue. It wasn’t one of our big themes. Other things came up that are in that area, that our values are masculine and a little aggressive, but the harassment issue, I just didn’t find that at all.” A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been harassed in the workplace.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Uber is far from the only company with sexual harassment issues. This type of inappropriate workplace behavior is actually quite common. A study of 500 respondents and 92 U.S. companies produced the following results:

  • Approximately 54 percent (272) of respondents had been the victim of some type of workplace sexual harassment.
  • Of those, 27 percent had experienced harassment by a colleague, and 17 percent were harassed by a
  • Women made up the majority of harassment victims at 79 percent.
  • Of those harassed, 12 percent claim to have received threats of termination if they refused the advances and requests of their harassers.

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Although it is becoming increasingly more vital to attempt to crack down on the amount and frequency of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace, it is equally as important to learn how to recognize the signs and elements of sexual harassment from a legal standpoint, in order to more effectively address these concerns, as well as to know what your rights are. Legally, there are two ways that one can be harassed while at work: through “quid pro quo” and “hostile work environment” harassment.

According to Massachusetts General Law Ch. 151B, “quid pro quo” harassment is defined as:

sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when . . . submission to or rejection of such advances, requests or conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or as a basis for employment decision.

Every employer should have a policy against sexual harassment. Federal and state laws prohibit this type of harassment in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean it never occurs. In some cases, the accuser has a legitimate claim against the accused. However, false accusations do occur with relative frequency. They may be a form of retaliation, or fabricated to justify the firing of an employee. If you are being investigated for sexual harassment in the workplace, a Boston employment law attorney can help you determine your rights and options.

What is Sexual Harassment?

From mild innuendos to blatant abuse, sexual harassment can take many forms. Some examples of prohibited conduct include:

  • Sexual assaults: This includes everything from unwanted, intentional touching, such as grabbing, patting, and even brushing against another’s body, to outright rape.
  • Unwelcome advances of a sexual nature: Sexually-oriented comments or gestures, propositions, and jokes or remarks about another employee’s sexuality.
  • Special treatment in exchange for sexual conduct: Soliciting another employee to engage in sexual conduct in exchange for a raise, promotion, or preferential treatment.
  • Threatening unwanted sexual attention.
  • The presence of any type of sexual or discriminatory materials or publications in the workplace.
  • Retaliation for refusal of sexual advances or for complaints of sexual harassment.

What if the Accusation is False?

The short answer is, it’s complicated. If the employer disciplines the alleged victim for a false complaint and it turns out the complaint was valid, the victim can take the employer to court. For this reason, many employers submit to the knee-jerk reaction of immediately firing the accused. The accused does have a right to challenge this termination, but this right is limited. An employer also has the right to discharge an employee based on suspicion of sexual harassment, even if the suspicion turns out to be inaccurate. So most employers decide to take the easy road to protect themselves, even if they don’t fully believe the accusations. But if the employer uses a fabricated accusation to cover up an unlawful reason for discharge, the employer may be liable. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been falsely accused of sexual harassment in the workplace. Continue reading

Sexual harassment in the workplace is any unwanted activity of a sexual nature that creates an unfriendly or hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can be physical, verbal, or more nuanced such as through email interactions. Sexual harassment can happen to women, men and transgendered workers.

Although most people think of sexual harassment in various forms of cliché – such as a cigar-smoking boss physically grabbing female employees in inappropriate ways – this is by no means the only way that sexual harassment can occur within the workplace. Sexual harassment includes any type of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors in exchange for rewards or threats of disciplinary action if sexual favors are not given.

Another stereotypical view of sexual harassment is that it only occurs in certain types of office environments, and that it was a much bigger problem back in the 70s, 80s and 90s when the increased presence of women in the workforce was still a new topic to those unwilling to adapt to changing times.

Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that sexual harassment has not vanished with the modernization of society, as a 2015 study showed that 33 percent of 2,235 part and fulltime women workers experienced harassment at work at some point in their lives.

Other recent studies show that sexual harassment is actually an even bigger problem in modern, booming industries, such as the technological hub of Silicon Valley.

A study of more than 200 women working in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco in 2016 showed that 90 percent had witnessed sexist behavior at offsite company events and industry conferences. Another 60 percent had reported being the target of unwanted sexual advances from a superior. An uneasy 33 percent said they felt afraid for their personal safety because of these incidents at work.

These cases of sexual harassment include physical groping and the requesting of a female sales associate to “sit on his lap” in order to complete a sale. One who filed a complaint after she was physically groped by her boss said that she was retaliated against and had to leave the company.

Even more alarming are the staggering statistics regarding gender discrimination by superiors and clients at these companies. About half of the survey respondents said they had been asked to perform “office housework” tasks, such as taking notes, ordering food, etc.) that male counterparts were not asked to do. Another 87 percent reported being on the receiving end of demeaning comments from male colleagues.

A shocking 75 percent of respondents say they were asked questions about marriage and family in their job interviews, which is a violation of anti-discrimination policy. Sometimes the discriminatory action is less overt, such as superiors taking the staff out to lunch at Hooters, or engaging in “team building activities” that include shaving the hair from their heads. Continue reading

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