Lois Frankel Brings Back EMPOWER Act for More Transparency on Harassment in the Workplace

Last week, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., brought back the “Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace Harassment Through Education and Reporting (EMPOWER) Act,” insisting it will “lift the veil of secrecy surrounding workplace harassment, strengthen employee protections, and increase transparency and accountability to create safer workplaces across America.”

Frankel reintroduced the bill last week with more than 60 co-sponsors including U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-NY, the chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Florida Democrats U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Al Lawson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are co-sponsoring the proposal. Only two Republicans–U.S. Reps. Brain Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko of New York–are co-sponsors.

The bill will “ban the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) as a condition of employment, which will empower workers to speak out about harassment; hold workplaces accountable by requiring publicly-traded companies to disclose harassment-based settlements and awards on annual financial filings; close loopholes in the tax code that put taxpayers on the hook for the costs companies incur litigating harassment claims; end the tax penalty on survivors of workplace harassment who receive damages, and; direct the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to create and disseminate resources to help foster safe and respectful workplaces.”

“Everyone deserves to work with dignity in a safe workplace,” said Frankel. “Survivors of harassment should not be silenced. This bill allows workers to speak out against hostile work environments without penalty, provides them fairer compensation, and holds liable employers accountable.”

“It’s past time to put an end to the culture of silence surrounding workplace harassment, which has only perpetuated hostile work environments,” said Fitzpatrick. “Our bipartisan legislation will hold perpetrators accountable and provide victims with the resources and support they need to report harassment or abuse in the workplace without fear of retribution.”

“As a nation, we have failed to provide every person with a safe and fair work environment,” said Nadler. “Congress now has the long-overdue opportunity to rectify this injustice. We must act. The EMPOWER Act will make meaningful progress toward ending workplace harassment. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this bipartisan, bicameral legislation.”

The bill was assigned to the U.S. House Education and Labor; Ways and Means; Judiciary; House Administration; Oversight and Reform; and the Financial Services Committees.

Over in the U.S. Senate, Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, will introduce the companion measure.

“The #MeToo movement exposed the ways powerful people and corporations used non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements to hide workplace harassment,” said Hirono. “The EMPOWER Act will level the playing field by outlawing these agreements, enabling workers to speak out and hold their harassers to account.”

The American Association of University Women, the Economic Policy Institute, the Human Rights Campaign, Justice for Migrant Women, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Employment Law Association, the National Women’s Law Center and the Urban League are behind the proposal.

KEVIN DERBY
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