What role does the employer have in addressing sexual harassment?
In our industry, each theatrical union has a collective bargaining agreement with its employers (the producers) that establishes a way that employees can report and seek redress when they are victimized in this way. But dramatists are uniquely situated, in that the Guild is not a union and dramatists are not employees.
While there are state and federal laws, and union contracts, that attempt to address sexual harassment, those laws and contracts apply to “employees” in their “work place.” But dramatists may not have the protection of such laws or recourse to such contracts, because writers in the theater are licensors of intellectual property, not “employees” per se (at least under the current laws). So legal protections for employees may not be available to dramatists.
In some cases, a dramatist not only licenses their property but also provides services for a fee (like when a writer is paid a non-recoupable commission to write a specific work, or is required to be present and participate in the development process of a new work). In such cases, a dramatist may be compensated as an “independent contractor” and, as such, could be entitled to certain kinds of legal recourse.
In addition, beyond the problems of defining an “employee,” how can a “work place” be defined in the context of a theatrical production? Is it just the offices, the rehearsal halls and the venues where a show is being presented? Or could it be a bar where a writer is meeting a director to discuss their notes, or a hotel room where a playwright has cocktails with a producer to pitch a new play, or a star’s home, where the composer and lyricist perform the new song they’ve written for their new show to try and persuade the actor to accept the lead role? These may or may not be deemed “work places” under the laws of a particular state, but they surely are places where a dramatist interacts with others who may have power over their career.
And what is the appropriate role for the labor unions in this industry? There has been much debate on that question. From the union’s perspective, workplace safety is an issue of collective bargaining and is the responsibility (and expense) of the employer. In addition, they have a legal “duty of fair representation” to their members that they claim puts a limit on their ability to share information or act directly with other organizations or individuals against their own membership. Nonetheless, some unions have been working to increase their services and education for their members on this problem and to provide the resources that they can (You can see their information in the links section below).