Sexual harassment in the workplace is not anything new.
It didn't come about as a new trend, sticking around longer than intended.
It didn't arise suddenly, without warning or explanation.
It didn't appear overnight with a hashtag.
Instead, sexual harassment in the workplace has always been there, simmering inaudibly beneath the surface for years, decades, centuries.
Well, because until the #MeToo movement, there was a truth that was understood amongst all industries and women wronged. The truth was: women were liable for what someone else took from them; and harassment persisted because perpetrators and employers never faced any consequences.
Now, Congresswomen Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are no longer tolerating idleness towards the fight against workplace sexual harassment. The voices of the #MeToo movement will no longer be silenced as they travel exponentially towards Congress. On Wednesday afternoon (July 18), Congress introduced the EMPOWER Act, which stands for Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace Harassment through Education and Reporting, to end sexual harassment for all women workers.
The EMPOWER Act prohibits non-disparagement and nondisclosure clauses as "a condition of employment, promotion, compensation, benefits or change in employment status" that deal with sexual harassment—putting an end to the clauses that have been used to stop victims from speaking out in the past.
In addition, companies would not be allowed tax deductions for legal fees incurred through sexual harassment cases, and they would be required to disclose the number of settlements for sexual harassment cases and the presence of individuals with repeated settlements in their yearly SEC filings.
The EMPOWER Act would also create a confidential tip-line for harassment reports under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and mandates companies to have sexual harassment prevention training programs in place. Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of National Domestic Workers Alliance and Co-Director of Caring Across Generations stated:
"All women deserve dignity and safety at work, regardless of where they work or the nature of the work they do. Despite the importance of their work supporting families and maintaining homes, domestic workers are especially vulnerable to abuse, in large part because they aren't adequately protected under federal labor laws. I commend Senators Harris and Murkowski for including domestic workers in the EMPOWER Act and advancing new sexual harassment policies. Now survivors will have more accessible ways of reporting harassment, and our voices will no longer be silenced as a condition of keeping our jobs."
The bill is a direct response to hundreds of thousands of sexual harassment complaints that have come to light in the #MeToo era and, especially, to the measures companies have used to keep women from discussing it for years. Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy said:
"The epidemic of sexual harassment in the workplace is pervasive across all industries and impacts all demographics -- including the LGBTQ community. Far too often, survivors of workplace harassment are forced into silence while perpetrators and employers avoid consequences. Employers should not be allowed to hide behind nondisclosure agreements that pressure survivors to remain silent in exchange for their job."
Nevertheless, despite the bill having bipartisan support, nothing has happened in finalizing the bill. To ensure the bill's continuity, Congresswomen and allies—Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), who is sponsoring the bill with Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE)—would need support from House and Senate leaders.
However, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel have yet to voice their stance on eradicating sexual harassment.