Uber is one of the most recognized names in the ridesharing industry today, but it has not been immune to sexual harassment complaints. Cases of sexual harassment in multiple industries has long been a serious issue, but in the last year, the #MeToo movement brought the issue into the open. Uber has been the subject of a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint and civil lawsuit by a former employee. Uber’s contracted drivers have been accused of harassment or assault incidents. Uber, in response, has revealed a new company-wide technology effort to monitor and address complaints by both riders and drivers.
Cases of sexual harassment can happen in all types of occupations and have substantial and long-term effects on those who experience it. Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft have skyrocketed in the past few years, making this another growing area where safety and harassment issues need to be addressed.
Development of New Technology
When ridesharing customers enter a vehicle that they have requested through the smartphone application, there is a safety risk for both the driver and passenger, particularly women. In November 2018, the California-based multibillion-dollar corporation debuted its new system of tracking a list of offenses that could be committed during a ride. The program was developed in conjunction with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in part due to the underreporting of sexual harassment and assault.
Sexual harassment in employment is prohibited under state and federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sexual harassment can consist of a variety of unwelcome and hostile conduct. Uber’s new system, which they call a taxonomy of offenses, aims to provide standardized descriptions and terms for harassment. According to Uber, there is no standard terminology used across all 50 states or in federal crime statistic compilations. The joint effort was described by both partners as the first ever effort to categorize a variety of sexual offenses with the goal of improving transparency and confronting the challenge.
The technology will allow a rider or driver who has experienced harassment to document the incident in their own words. The system will help Uber track what happened, reach out to the victim, and provide relevant assistance. In addition, Uber will utilize machine learning systems to understand specifically what kind of offense is being reported and translate it into standard terms. Using this system, Uber will then use specialized customer service staff trained in trauma response to contact the individual to follow up and provide help.
Because sexual harassment and crimes are underreported to institutions and law enforcement, this effort means that the company’s documented sexual harassment statistics will rise, which Uber says it fully recognizes. As part of transparency efforts, Uber plans to compile and make a public report in 2019 detailing incident numbers and results. The method of categorizing incidents has been made publicly available since the company anticipates other companies will benefit from the development of this standardized system and follow suit.