What Employment Needs Should I Plan to Address with Farmworker Victims?
When farmworkers are sexually assaulted— regardless of whether the sexual assault is work-related—there are many ways in which victims’ employment may be adversely affected. Victims may need modified work schedules, changes in job duties, transfer or termination of the perpetrator, and/or time away from work to participate in legal proceedings or to seek medical care, mental health care or a protection order. However, employers are often unwilling to make such accommodations for farmworkers.
Federal and state employment laws and related laws can provide various remedies to victims of sexual assault. If the sexual assault occurred during work hours or if the supervisor or a co-worker was the perpetrator, for instance, the sexual assault will likely be a form of sex discrimination that may be protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or state antidiscrimination laws. Discrimination claims offer remedies such as protection against further harassment and retaliation, financial recovery for lost wages and emotional harm, reinstatement of employment if the victim has been fired, and protected leave time to access services.
Be prepared to refer victims to attorneys who can identify their potential legal remedies and help them with any of these issues.
Conduct careful intakes. Organizations that routinely assist farmworkers with employment issues should carefully screen farmworkers for sexual harassment and sexual assault. Victims may be seeking assistance because they were fired and are wondering what legal recourse they have. Only through careful questioning will you discover the underlying reason for the termination was, for example, refusal to exchange sex for work. Again, if sexual assault or harassment is revealed, refer victims to employment law and/or farmworker attorneys.
Locate new employment opportunities. Many incidents of non-intimate partner sexual violence in the farmworker community are workplace-related. Victims may have lost their employment due to retaliation or may not wish to return to the same workplace as it may further traumatize them and put them at risk. Victims may also fear being stigmatized by supervisors and co-workers and fear retaliation by the perpetrator and the company. In these situations, you can provide a valuable service by helping victims obtain new employment and the skills they may need to secure that employment.
Finding new employment can be challenging because farmworkers may:
- Only have work experience in agriculture;
- Have unique skills that may not be transferable to other employment settings;
- Have low levels of education;
- Experience language access issues; and
- Lack transportation.
Consider the victims’ skills and interests. Farmworkers may be able to perform other jobs, such as work in tourism, service, construction, landscaping, child care or domestic service industries. As you help them consider the options, be sure to raise the following issues regarding new employment:
- What interests them and will they be happy in the proposed job placement?
- Would transportation be readily accessible?
- Is daycare necessary/available?
- Is the new working environment a safe alternative?
- Is there adequate job training before starting the job?
- Will language be a barrier?
Find new farmwork. Foreign-born seasonal farmworkers may leave their home country with the intention to work for a set period of time in the U.S. and then return home when the season ends. In the case of guestworkers, the employment is always short-term with a specific end date when they must return to their country of origin. Guestworkers face an additional hurdle to securing new employment because their visa is invalid when their relationship with the employer who sponsored the visa ends.
There may not be additional farmwork in your area; relocation to another agricultural area may be required. However, farmwork is not guaranteed as growers and farm labor contractors may have already established their crews for the season. Additionally, workers may be blacklisted for reporting the sexual violence. Blacklisting occurs when owners or supervisors tell other supervisors and companies that the victim is a troublemaker who should not be employed. This too may limit other agricultural employment options.
Locate skills training. Check with local employment offices or community colleges to see if classes are available to train farmworkers for non-agricultural work. Additionally, immigrant farmworkers may be interested in English or Spanish language classes.
- What local agencies exist that offer job training and job placement?
- What non-agricultural jobs are available in my area that might be suitable for farmworkers?
- What language classes are available in my community?
- To which local attorneys can I refer farmworker victims when they express employment concerns?