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Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation Introduced to Combat Workplace Harassment and Increase Transparency and Accountability

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Washington, July 18, 2018 | comments

Washington, DC – Today, Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL-21), Ted Poe (R-TX-02), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) introduced H.R. 6406, Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting (EMPOWER) Act, to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding workplace harassment, and bolster transparency and accountability. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

“Sexual harassment is an abuse of power, robbing victims, mostly women, of a safe and dignified workplace, often causing emotional and physical distress and harming their financial ability to take care of their families,” said Rep. Frankel. “Today we say time is up for this misconduct.”

“In no way, shape or form is sexual harassment acceptable,” said Rep. Poe. “A workplace must be an environment that is free from harm and supports all those who are employed. It is far past time for the “boys will be boys” culture to end. Supporting an accountable and transparent workplace is the least that Congress can do.”

“Across workplaces, schools, and communities, we are beginning to come to terms with how our laws and our society have failed victims of harassment,” said Rep. Nadler, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee. “If the women and men who have been victimized, shamed, and abandoned by our laws and society can find the courage to stand up and tell their stories, then Congress should step-up and act in their names and the names of the millions who don’t have the platform to speak out. To that end, I am proud to stand with this bipartisan, bicameral group of members to introduce the EMPOWER Act, and I urge all of my colleagues to join us in this fight and see this long-overdue bill over the finish line.”

“I am pleased to introduce this bill that will set up better practices to hold abusers accountable and prohibit nondisclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Rep. Comstock. “This bill will help stop the culture of silence in cases of sexual harassment and bring more accountability to the perpetrators and empower victims.” 

“Everyone has the right to a harassment-free workplace, and from our farms to our factory floors, we cannot allow sexual misconduct and cultures of silence to continue,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester. “With the goal of creating workplaces and a society where all are safe to thrive, this bill clearly defines sexual harassment, creates transparency and accountability, and aims to remove the fear of retribution for victims speaking out. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation that empowers victims and ultimately makes meaningful strides in ending sexual harassment and creating cultures of respect at companies everywhere.”

“Sexual harassment and misconduct must not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere,” said Senator Harris. “The culture of fear and silence created by perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace has existed for far too long and must come to an end. It’s time to address the gaps in our laws that allow this misconduct to go unpunished and keep it in the shadows.”

“Harassment is unacceptable by anyone, anywhere, and anytime. But in the unfortunate event that an individual falls victim to harassment, their voice must not be silenced. I was proud to introduce the Senate version of the EMPOWER Act with Senator Harris, and I am grateful for the support of Representatives Frankel, Poe, Nadler, Comstock, and Blunt Rochester to help identify areas to put an end to harassment and allow justice for victims,” said Senator Murkowski. “By ensuring that companies cannot curb silence in the face of harassment or assault, we’re creating safer, healthier environments for employees, everywhere.”

This comprehensive, bipartisan and bicameral legislation will address workplace harassment by increasing transparency and accountability. It will reduce the barriers that prevent survivors from speaking out and seeking justice, helping to make workplaces safer and more equitable for all employees and across all industries. Specifically, the EMPOWER Act:

  • Prohibits non-disparagement and non-disclosure clauses that cover workplace harassment as a condition of employment, promotion, compensation, benefits, or change in employment status or contractual relationship;
  • Establishes a confidential tip-line for the EEOC to receive reports about harassment and target employers that continue to allow for systemic harassment at the workplace. This would supplement the EEOC’s current formal complaint process. The information would be shared with state-based Fair Employment Practice Agencies, who could also bring civil enforcement actions against employers;
  • Requires that public companies disclose the number of settlements, judgments, and aggregate settlement amounts in connection with workplace harassment (as a material disclosure) in their annual SEC filings; and disclose the existence of repeat settlements with respect to a particular individual;
  • Prohibits companies from receiving tax deductions for expenses and attorneys’ fees paid in connection with litigation related to workplace harassment; prohibits tax deductions for amounts paid pursuant to judgments related to workplace harassment; protects plaintiffs’ awards and settlements received in connection with workplace harassment as nontaxable income; and ensures that plaintiffs who receive frontpay or backpay as a result of harassment and discrimination are not taxed unjustly.
  • Requires development and dissemination of workplace training programs to educate at all levels about what constitutes prohibited workplace harassment and how to prevent this behavior; educates employees about their rights with respect to workplace harassment, including how to report it; and trains bystanders on how to intervene and report; develops a public service advertisement campaign to provide further education on this issue.

Full text of the legislation can be found here and a summary can be found here. Additionally, 22 organizations have endorsed the EMPOWER Act. Full list can be found here.

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