New farm bill may benefit female farmworkers

Frank S. Clowney III

Many California residents understand that farm work is one of the most dangerous jobs available. Exposure to pesticides is one of the primary risks, but for female farmworkers, unwanted sexual advances, verbal abuse, and even rape are all threats when working in the fields. According to one study, 40 percent of female farmworkers reported dealing with some kind of sexual harassment or assault while at work. Many of these assaults and harassments go unreported because workers fear losing their jobs.

Many field supervisors have worked in the fields themselves, and they often have no training when it comes to human resources. Threatening to fire workers is often a primary means of personnel management. When a woman reports having to deal with sexual assault or harassment, a manager may take away her job as well as those of her family members. Many families work together on one farm, and they may risk collective job loss if one member raises a complaint.

However, a new bill being considered by the California Senate proposes blocking the license of any farm-work contractor who has committed sexual harassment against an employee for the past three years. In addition, the contractor’s license would be blocked if he or she had placed a person who had committed sexual harassment in the past three years in a supervisory position. Opponents of the bill claim that there isn’t a way to conduct background checks thorough enough to include sexual harassment.

For employees who have faced sexual harassment in the past, this new bill may offer a sense of increased safety and comfort in the workplace. For those who have faced harassment but not reported it, talking to a lawyer who specializes in workplace discrimination may be helpful.

Source: TakePart, “A California Bill Could Help Make Farms a Safer Place for Women“, Willy Blackmore, June 26, 2014