Rep. Rochester sponsors bill to combat workplace harassment

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL) on March 6 joined the bipartisan legislation “Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting (EMPOWER) Act.”

The bill is designed to bolster transparency and accountability surrounding workplace harassment. Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will introduce a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

“Every employee across the country deserves a safe, harassment-free workplace,” said Blunt Rochester. “For too long, our society has ignored various forms of sexual harassment that women face, which perpetuates cultures of suffering and silence.”

The bill will specifically target the practice of using non-disclosure agreement to silence sexual harassment claims.

“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. Lois Frankel (D-FL-21), chair of the Democratic Women’s Working Group. “The EMPOWER Act will help end this abuse of power and create more dignified workplaces.”

In the addition, the bill:

  • 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.

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