With a new bombshell dropping nearly every day implicating celebrities, politicians and business leaders in sexual harassment, employers may be starting to break a sweat.

Agriculture isn’t exempt. In fact, female farmworkers are especially vulnerable with 60 percent reporting having experienced sexual harassment. And ag employers are equally liable. In 2015, $17 million in damages was paid to five farmworkers in Florida who had accused their supervisors of rape and harassment.

Before we put our heads in the sand, because we don’t need one more thing to worry about in addition to the weather, the labor shortage, the market, water and pests, let’s consider that a proactive approach to sexual harassment can pay dividends in improving employee retention and satisfaction.

“I wish my daughter could work in cherries this summer to save money for college, but I’ve worked in those fields, I know what it’s like. And there’s no way I’m sending my 16 year old daughter out there.”

Female Farmworker in The Dalles, Oregon

Here are some important questions to ask:

  1. Could this be happening at our company?

  2. Wouldn’t we have heard about it if it were happening?

  3. Could we be liable?

  4. How can we detect and encourage reporting of sexual harassment?

  5. How can we prevent it?

  6. How can we address it when it happens?

We’ll dive into these questions in the next couple posts.

1. Could this be happening at our company?

Yes. Statistically speaking, it’s quite likely that sexual harassment has occurred at your company. According to a recent poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal, 48% of women in the US say they have experienced an unwelcome sexual advance or verbal or physical harassment at work. And 60 percent of female farmworkers reported experiencing sexual harassment.

2. Wouldn’t we have heard about it if it were happening?

It’s unlikely that managers would have heard about sexual harassment occurring at their company. 71 percent of women in one survey said they did not report the sexual harassment. There are many reasons for this, but it boils down to each woman running her own cost-benefit analysis. What do I stand to lose if I report this? What would I gain? The weight of what an undocumented farmworker stands to lose by reporting harassment is likely to outweigh her perception of the chances that her complaint would be taken seriously and resolved.

3. Could we be liable?

We won’t attempt to interpret the law, but this article has a summary of employer liability.

Stay tuned for more resources to help answer these questions:

  • How can we detect and encourage reporting of sexual harassment?

  • How can we prevent it?

  • How can we address it when it happens?

 

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