Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware; Lois Frankel, D-Florida; Jerrold Nadler, D-New York; John Katko, R-New York; Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania; and Lauren Underwood, D-Illinois, 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 Sens. Kamala Harris, D-California, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
“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 widespread this problem truly is, and we are doing something about it,” said 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.”
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 nondisparagement 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 front pay 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.
The legislation text can be found at bit.ly/2H0L8PN and a summary can be found at bit.ly/2EAH5Gn. Additionally, 27 organizations have endorsed the EMPOWER Act. A full list and supporting statements can be found at bit.ly/2H2jwtw.