New Bipartisan Bill Aims To Fight Sexual Harassment At Work

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"By lifting the veil of secrecy and increasing transparency and accountability, the EMPOWER Act will create more respectful and equitable workplaces."

 

In the spirit of the viral “Me too” campaign, a bipartisan bill is underway in Congress to combat the pervasive issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.

Though the Republicans and Democrats agree on a very few things, members of the Congress from both sides of the aisle are at least working together on making it less dangerous for employees to complain about inappropriate behavior and stopping businesses from hiding claims of sexual harassments from the public.

In most cases, job contracts include clauses that essentially make it illegal for workers to disclose information that might jeopardize the reputation of companies, including workplace disputes and sexual harassment claims.

But, it appears the employers will no longer be able to sweep such instances under the rug because the U.S. House representatives from both parties are introducing a bill, called the EMPOWER Act, which would address the lack of accountability and transparency at workplaces which often lead to sexual harassment cases.

"The Me Too movement has exposed the pervasive issue of sexual harassment that cuts across all industries depriving workers of dignified work environments and the ability to support their families," said Rep. Lois Frankel, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

"Ultimately there was a monopoly of power in workplace harassment. Those who control a paycheck, or a reputation, or a promotion have the power to perpetrate harassment, to protect harassers, and to silence victims. Today we say time’s up to this misconduct," she added.

In addition, the bill would require companies to reveal the number of harassment claims it settles each year and the amount paid in the annual filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It would also prohibit non-disparagement and non-disclosure agreements in employee contracts.

Finally, it would reform the tax code, so taxpayer money is not used to fund harassment settlements and survivors aren't penalized.

The EMPOWER Act — an acronym for the "Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting Act"was co-sponsored by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE).

Moreover, at least 21 women advocacy organizations backed up the bill in question, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Human Rights Campaign, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, NAACP, and the National Women’s Law Center.

Ever since disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s instances of unchecked sexual harassment came to light, the notorious nondisclosure agreements (NDAS) and confidential settlements that protected Weinstein for years, drew increased scrutiny.

Though the NDAs were originally used in business contracts to protect trade secrets, they were widely exploited by companies and kept the harassment claims under the radar.

In most cases, if women do actually decide to speak up they end up violating the agreements and are faced with the fines of paying thousands of dollars at times.

However, since the #MeToo stories revealed the magnitude of the problem, members of Congress put pressure on authorities to do something about the widespread sexual harassment of female workers.

But, unfortunately, number of bills which were introduced in the past didn’t go that far due to lack of adequate support.

The Senate version of the EMPOWER Act was introduced last month by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Kamala Harris (D-NY). Hopefully, the bill will successfully make its way through Congress this time.

 

 

 

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters/Sebastien Pirlet

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