Democrats Unveil Bill to Expand Protections Against Workplace
CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 4/12/2019, 8:12 a.m.
By Clare Foran and Sunlen Serfaty, CNN/StyleMagazine.com Newswire
A group of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday are unveiling sweeping legislation to strengthen and expand federal protections aimed at preventing workplace harassment and discrimination nationwide.
The legislation, titled the "BE HEARD in the Workplace Act," is being introduced in the Senate by Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a member of Senate leadership and the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
A number of high-profile congressional Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors, including 2020 candidates Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker as well as Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats.
A companion version of the legislation is also being introduced in the House, an effort led by Democratic Reps. Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley, Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
While the Democratic-backed bill faces tough odds of passage given the Republican-controlled Senate, the effort comes after Congress passed long-stalled legislation at the end of last year to reform the way sexual harassment is handled on Capitol Hill.
As the #MeToo movement rose to prominence, Capitol Hill has been forced to confront its own problems with workplace harassment and a number of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, have had to resign as a result of sexual misconduct scandals.
In the wake of Congress taking steps to get itself in order over sexual harassment, the BE HEARD Act represents a push to more broadly tackle the issue of harassment and discrimination in industries across the country. The legislation is focused on preventing sexual harassment as well as other forms of workplace harassment and discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age and disability.
The bill introduction follows a report on workplace harassment released by Murray last year. The report shared stories of harassment experienced by individuals working in a variety of jobs, including as nannies, fast food workers, and hotel housekeepers. That report concluded that existing protections enshrined in law are inadequate and outlined a series of recommendations for congressional action.
The BE HEARD Act has a wide-ranging set of provisions that include convening a task force that will make recommendations on strategies to prevent harassment, facilitating research on workplace harassment, and eliminating the tipped minimum wage.
According to a summary of the legislation provided by Murray's office, the bill requires the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "to convene a harassment prevention task force that includes business leaders, researchers, employee advocates, and others." The summary states that the task force will "identify and recommend harassment prevention strategies" as well as "provide sector-specific guidance to industries with particularly prevalent or severe harassment."
Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Census Bureau and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics will develop "a national prevalence survey on harassment in the workplace" that will be administered by the Census Bureau.
The legislation would further require the US Commission on Civil Rights to "study the enforcement of civil rights, nondiscrimination and laws prohibiting harassment" and would require BLS to "study the economic impacts of harassment in employment."
According to the summary, "Employers with 15 or more employees are required to adopt, maintain, and periodically review a comprehensive harassment and nondiscrimination policy, which will establish policies and procedures to prevent and respond to discrimination and harassment."
The bill would also eliminate the tipped minimum wage, which the summary of the legislation says, "exacerbates harassment of workers who rely on tips."
Among a number of other provisions, the legislation would also establish a "grant program run by the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor for grants for private entities, including colleges, community based organizations, nonprofits, labor organizations, legal aid groups, to prevent and address employment discrimination, including harassment."
The legislation comes with endorsements from a long list of organizations, including the ACLU, NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, the Center for American Progress, National Women's Law Center and National Domestic Workers Alliance.