Meretz chairwoman MK Michal Rozin proposed a law in recent weeks to expand the Sexual Harassment Protection Law to apply to independent workers, volunteers, and workers in the gig economy.

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“The changing labor market creates a wide variety of labor contracts and working conditions. The law must adapt to the changes and provide maximal protection to these workers,” Rozin said. “The thought that they are exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace without any legal protection is intolerable.”

MK Michal Rozin. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The law’s current wording relates to characteristics of the employer-employee relationship in which the power dynamics are inequal and rules that certain behaviors constitute harassment, even in cases where the harassed party did not express opposition. The law also holds that in compensatory lawsuits regarding damages from workplace sexual harassment, the burden of proof is placed on the employer.

Furthermore, it is the employer’s obligation to take certain steps to prevent workplace sexual harassment and to deal with instances pf sexual harassment that occurred in the workplace.

Nevertheless, the law in its current state does not offer compensation for sexual harassment of independent workers, volunteers, and gig economy workers – none of whom operate within a traditional employer-employee framework.

In these situations, even if there is not a directly subordinate relationship, there are often meaningful power gaps derived from the economic dependence of an independent contractor on their customer or hierarchical relationship between volunteers and their supervisors. This justifies applying the special standards in workplace relationships to these contexts as well.

“A harasser does not check whether a worker is an employee, freelancer, or volunteer”

The proposed amendment expands the applicability of the law and explicitly rules that the law’s instructions regarding employer-employee relations will apply to volunteers within an organization, independent contractors, and gig economy workers within an organization. The Forum of Self-Employed Workers within the Histadrut and the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel were partners in promoting the proposal.

“A harasser doesn’t check whether someone is an employee, freelancer, or volunteer. He seeks out the weakest link,” Inbal Jorni, chairwoman of the Histadrut's Forum of Self-Employed Women, said. “The employment structure for freelancing is broadening in the market, and we must establish protections against exploitation and damages for these workers.

“There are also power dynamics between a customer ordering a service and a freelancer dependent on them for their income – for example, a producer at a concert hall or an organizational consultant – and the laws need to consider that power gap,” she went on. 

“Of course volunteers, such as interns, national service volunteers, or MDA volunteers, are also vulnerable to sexual harassment,” Jorni added.

Jorni explained the the Histadrut Forum of Self-Employed Workers has set itself a goal of advancing legal protections for independent workers in Israel, not just economic reforms.

“We’re talking about a problem that has existed for far too long that discriminates against independent contractors and freelancers, making them critically vulnerable. This is a historic amendment that will grant them equal protections,” she said. 

Rami Beja, chair of the Forum, said in a statement: “It’s an honor to take part in this important change. We will continue to provide backing for the independent workers in Israel, advancing their rights and operating for additional protections for this status that is now being granted actual representation, even in legislation.”

Omer Schechter, head of the Public Policy Division within the Knesset-Relations department of the Histadrut said: “I want to thank MK Michal Rozin for her cooperation advancing this important law. I am very proud to take part in advancing this historic amendment that will provide protection for self-employed workers, volunteers, and workers in the gig economy here in Israel.”

This article was translated from Hebrew by Zach Pekarsky.