Press Releases

Rep. Frankel Leads Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation Combatting Workplace Harassment, and Increasing Transparency and Accountability

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Washington, March 5, 2019 | comments

Washington, DC – Today, Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL-21), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), John Katko (R-NY-24), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), and Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14), along with 49 cosponsors, reintroduced the Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting (EMPOWER) Act. This legislation will lift the veil of secrecy surrounding workplace harassment, and bolster transparency and accountability. A companion bill will be introduced in the Senate by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

“Time is up for workplace harassment that robs women and men of a safe work environment, causing distress and harming their financial ability to take care of their families,” said Rep. Frankel, Chair of the Democratic Women’s Working Group. “The EMPOWER Act will help end this abuse of power and create more dignified workplaces.”

“Every person deserves a safe and fair work environment, but our current laws have failed victims of harassment,” said Rep. Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “If the women and men who have been victimized, shamed, and abandoned by our 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 millions more who do not have a platform to speak out. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the EMPOWER Act, long-overdue legislation that will make meaningful strides in ending workplace harassment.”

“Employees who experience harassment in the workplace should have the ability to speak up without fear of retribution from their co-workers or employers. The bipartisan EMPOWER Act restores the rights of employees to fight workplace harassment, establishing transparency and holding perpetrators accountable,” said Rep. Katko. “Under this legislation, the use of non-disclosure agreements is prohibited, companies must make workplace harassment cases public, and employers are financially responsible for the outcome of workplace abuse settlements. No worker should face harassment in the workplace and I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation.”

“Every employee across the country deserves a safe, harassment-free workplace. For too long, our society has ignored various forms of sexual harassment that women face, which perpetuates cultures of suffering and silence. Thanks to the #MeToo movement, we are coming to terms with how wide-spread this problem truly is, and we are doing something about it,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester. “That’s why I am proud to join my colleagues in re-introducing the EMPOWER Act. By ending the practice of the non-disclosure agreements to silence claims, by creating a confidential hotline to report incidents of sexual harassment, and by shining a light on companies who pay out millions in settlements and judgments, we can make real strides in tackling the effects of pervasive harassment in America. This bill can move us toward our shared goal of creating inclusive cultures of respect in workplaces everywhere.”

“Whether it’s Hollywood, Congress, or a corporate boardroom, there is no place for sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace. Employees should have the resources and confidence to report harassment or abuse in the workplace without fear of retribution,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “This Congress must stand with the survivors of this harassment and take swift action to root out those who would sexually harass any other person, regardless of position or title.”

“I’m proud to help lead the bipartisan EMPOWER Act to end the culture of silence around workplace harassment. Employers are increasingly using non-disclosure agreements to force workers to sign away their rights to speak out about harassment,” said Rep. Underwood. “By prohibiting this practice, the EMPOWER Act will help ensure that everyone has a safe and dignified work environment.”

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, 29 organizations have endorsed the EMPOWER Act. Full list and supporting statements can be found here.

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