Janitors Vulnerable to Sexual Harassment, LOHP Reports

Janitors and security officers, particularly Latina immigrants and undocumented workers, face a heightened risk of sexual harassment and assault — often by their own supervisors, according to a groundbreaking report from the Labor Occupational Health Program. The report identifies major risk factors that contribute to the high rate of harassment and proposes starting points for intervention.

“The property services industry is structured in a way that isolates workers who are uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment, and then creates conditions in which workers are afraid to step forward to report harassment,” note authors Helen Chen, coordinator of public programs; Alejandra Domenzain, coordinator of public programs; and Librarian Karen Andrews.

“In the janitorial industry, it’s the perfect storm of conditions that come together: extreme vulnerability of a female workforce, a chain of command that’s traditionally male, and a workplace where workers are isolated and alone. It’s set up for abuse to happen,” noted Lilia Garcia-Brower, Executive Director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a California statewide watchdog working to abolish illegal and unfair business practices in the janitorial industry.

As many as 35 to 50 percent of women are sexually harassed at some point in their working life, but the risk is even higher for women working in male dominated sectors including the security industry, say the authors (pdf).

Several factors are at play to make these employees more vulnerable: working in isolation in empty buildings at night; characteristics such as being female, Latina, immigrant, and/or undocumented, which can mean less awareness about rights and greater fear of retaliation or deportation; an industry practice of awarding work to the lowest bid property service contractors and subcontractors, driving down profits and reducing employer accountability; and a workplace culture where supervisors and managers lack training and at times tolerate abuse.

The report recommends interventions at multiple levels, the cornerstone being a model sexual harassment policy that contains protections to address gaps in California law. A sexual harassment policy, they argue, “when developed thoughtfully and actively enforced, is the employer’s most important tool for preventing and addressing sexual harassment and assault.” The authors call for changes in the legal and regulatory system in addition to providing more resources to government agencies for outreach and enforcement. Governor Brown recently signed into law AB 1978, which implements some of the recommendations outlined in the report including mandatory sexual harassment training of all janitorial employees and employers.

Read the report, A Perfect Storm: How Supervisors Get Away with Sexually Harassing Workers Who Work Alone at Night, at http://lohp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/The-Perfect-Storm (pdf).

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