Will Uber Ever Get Over the Sexual Harassment Issues?

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Have you ever taken an Uber? For some, it’s allegedly been more of a ride than they bargained for.

The convenient ride-share service is under scrutiny again. Most recently (at least at the time of this writing) Uber has banned a driver who made comments that “his dream is to have some drunk chick by herself also going home at the end of my shift and she wants me to come in…” The passenger who recorded the conversation asked the driver if that would taking advantage of the woman, and the driver said he would get drunk too so that he would not be responsible.

When the passenger reported the incident to Uber, it issued a statement: “The comments in this video are disturbing and do not represent our driver-partner community. This driver has been banned from Uber.”

But what does this mean for a company that’s already plagued with sexual harassment claims?

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Employer Control Over Independent Contractors

This is just another incident in a line of sexual harassment charges the company has had to deal with. But the matter is complicated in Uber’s case. Uber has taken the position that its drivers are independent contractors. The drivers have challenged this classification across the company in a series of class action lawsuits. The drivers are seeking classification as employees which would trigger coverage of wage and hour laws, and the benefits of employment status such as unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation insurance, to mention but a few. The independent contractor issue has not been finally resolved. Writer Alan Pyke has even suggested that current laws are no longer designed for businesses of the present age. We’re in unchartered waters to a certain extent when it comes to defining roles and responsibilities of employers and independent contractors.

There is no doubt that Uber exercises significant control over its drivers. The question will be whether the company exercises sufficient control to be held liable for the conduct of its drivers, and if so, where does one draw the line?

Meanwhile, as we wait to see how these classification issues will be dealt with, claims of sexual harassment and other issues such as drivers working under the influence of drugs or alcohol continue to plague the company. Earlier in June, Uber revealed the recommendations that had been made to address sexual harassment based on its month-long probe of misconduct. These recommendations centered on sexual harassment of employees at Uber. Critics have pointed out that the recommendations do little to address issues regarding sex discrimination in driver recruitment, protection of drivers from sexual harassment, or sexual harassment by the drivers themselves. CEO Travis Kalanick has stepped aside to take on a diminished executive role with the company. Many believe this move was largely due to complaints about a culture of sexual harassment at the company.

Another board member, David Bonderman, also stepped down after complaints were lodged about his comment that adding more women to Uber’s board would result in “more talking.” His comments were widely circulated on Twitter. His comments followed the release of a 13-page document outlining recommendations that Uber planned to take to address a series of complaints about corporate misconduct, including harassment claims.

Sexual Harassment in the Uber Workplace

But it’s not just the independent contractor drivers that are causing Uber its issues. A former engineer at the company, Susan Fowler, has filed claims of sexual harassment and cited general workplace hostility.

Former US Attorney General Eric Holder released many recommendations to Uber in June. Uber claims that they have already begun adhering to the suggested changes in senior leadership, and that we can expect even more changes over the next coming weeks.

The Role of Court of Public Opinion in Sexual Harassment

Uber’s biggest detractors aren’t just coming from court cases and special investigations but the court of public opinion and social media. The grassroots campaigns that organizations are mounting encouraging the public to boycott Uber are growing. In 2017 between February and June, defections from Uber to Lyft in the Chicago area were at about 2.5%, second in the nation outside of its hometown San Francisco.

Basecamp, a web developer and project management tool company, stopped reimbursing employees for using the service and encouraged them to find other means of transportation.

Sexual harassment is no longer confined to office breakrooms late in the evenings when most of the employees are gone. It’s become a much bigger issue for companies with expansive employee bases to ensure all their employees know that this sort of behavior is illegal.

If you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment or something about an employer’s behavior is bothering you, don’t remain quiet and hope it goes away. Contact Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. to better understand your rights. The initial consultation is free.

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