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Sexual Harassment in the Fields – NO MORE!

As we recently reported on harassment and discrimination, along with the horrible working conditions of California car wash employees, focus has now been placed on harassment of female (and presumably male) farm workers. A new law has been passed that will protect farm workers from sexual harassment on the job.

It’s one of the many new laws Gov. Jerry Brown signed this week before Tuesday’s midnight deadline. He finished signing, and vetoing, bills on his desk by Tuesday afternoon.

The new bill was authored by Senator Bill Monning, D-Monterey, in response to a report generated by a collaboration among The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, KQED-FM, FRONTLINE and Univision, entitled Rape in the Fields.

The report detailed the horrific abuse many immigrant women faced while working in the agricultural business, including harassment, physical abuse and rape.

Senate Bill 1087 mainly addresses the so-called ‘middle men’ in the farm contract labor industry; those contractors who seek out employees, and maintain a workforce ready and available for local farmers. Farmers then enter into agreements with these contractors during the seasons in which they need additional labor. The Bill addresses abuses by contractors, requiring them to submit to sexual harassment training, and adds questions related to sexual harassment to their licensing exam. The state can also now revoke the license of a contractor who has harassed an employee. Labor contractors could also be stripped of their license if they hire a supervisor who has engaged in sexual harassment in the past three years and requires agricultural supervisors to take sexual harassment prevention training. Many who work the fields are calling the move a step towards battling a longtime problem.

Previously, sexual harassment laws have only been aimed at employers with 50 or more employees. The new Bill requires compliance from employers of any size.

Early versions of the bill, which required more intensive training for labor contractors, were opposed by agricultural trade groups and the California Farm Labor Contractor Association. They felt the bill would increase business costs, and they were concerned about how they would conduct sexual harassment background checks on supervisors.

But other grower groups, like the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, threw their support behind the bill early on.

“Clearly, nobody should be creating a situation which could lead to sexual harassment,” said Barry Bedwell, the organization’s president.

The work of California’s field laborers has never been easy, but until recently the added burden of rampant sexual harassment on the job was something few female migrant workers were willing to report for fear that authorities might question their presence in the States and ship them back to their countries of origin.

“Jobs are sort of like a sacred thing, sometimes you put up with a lot of stuff,” former field worker Anita Taesali said.

She said she would often see abusive behavior from male supervisors towards female workers.

“Degrading things to the females or just jokes that aren’t that funny,” Taesali described.

And sometimes much worse.

Brown signed the legislation that would not only mandate training for supervisors, it would require all employees to be trained when hired and at least once every two years.

A retired farm worker, who did not want to be identified, said he welcomed what he hopes will be a change in the culture of work camps.

“Abuse has always gone on. Now, with this new law, I think it will be good,” the farm worker said.

It may not have come in time for Taesali, but she hopes it will help the current and future generations of female farm workers.

“They have to work. They’re sort of stuck there,” Taesali explained. “I’m sure they’re going to be happy if the law is enforced, you know.”

If you’re asking yourself: Have I been sexually harassed? Is this sexual harassment? Or What is sexual harassment in the workplace? Contact Stephen Danz & Associates at (877) 789-9707 or use the Contact Form on our website to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION today.

Stephen has more than three decades of experience in defending the employees of California from the unlawful harassment and discrimination of employers. Stephen has offices in all of California’s major cities. He and one of his senior associates will sit down with you at a location that is convenient to your work, school or home to discuss the facts of your case and help you decide on a course of action that will bring about the best possible settlement or judgment.