According to advocates who help undocumented immigrant workers and low-wage women, the more vulnerable the woman, the worse the sexual harassment tends to be. One recent case in Massachusetts involved a Honduran woman who would be beckoned to a supervisor’s office via the PA system, signaling to her that it was time to perform oral sex on him. Sexual misconduct in the workplace is shockingly common, but it’s often only revealed as a secondary issue when women report other problems, such as theft of wages. “A lot of women are trained that economic issues are real problems and this sexual harassment thing is just extra added discomfort,” said interim co-director for Jobs With Justice, Gillian Mason.
Another issue faced by low-income workers is that they are often working through temp agencies. Refusing advances from their supervisors may prevent their ability to obtain permanent employment, so many suffer through it. During a sexual harassment study conducted by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), one temp worker said, “The female co-workers that wanted the permanent job through the company, they let him touch them.” A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.
Don’t Bother Reporting it, “This Company Always Wins.”
Over a one-year period, MassCOSH interviewed a total of 58 low-wage Latina workers in the restaurant, janitorial, factory, and hotel industries. One woman reported feeling like she was in a “prison,” fearing that she wouldn’t be able to support her child if she lost her job. Another woman, who worked at a Somerville manufacturing company, claimed that after refusing her supervisor’s advances, he made her work on a more dangerous machine. She went to a lawyer after burning her hands on the machine, but the lawyer told her to give up because “this company always wins.” So she did. Shortly thereafter, she was laid off.
According to Adrian Ventura, director of the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores in New Bedford, sexual harassment often occurs in the vans used to transport workers to different job sites. In many cases, the van drivers double as supervisors for temp agencies. Some drivers will drop off attractive, young workers last so they can be alone in the vehicle together. If the woman refuses the driver’s advances, she risks losing her job. A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.
For many of these women, not speaking English presents another obstacle. Even if the company has established harassment policies and procedures for reporting this type of behavior, without a Spanish translator, many workers don’t know what to do. In the case of Judith Lucas, from Guatemala, a language barrier prevented her from reporting long-standing harassment at a scallop processing facility in New Bedford. She couldn’t quit because she needed the money, and she couldn’t ask for help because her translator was the man who was assaulting her. Continue reading