Washington, D.C.– U.S. Representatives Katherine Clark and Ayanna Pressley, both of Massachusetts, introduced an anti-sexual harassment bill in the House this week which aims to reduce workplace inequalities, mistreatment, and violence for all workers. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, the bill would grant federal protection to employees who find themselves without recourse in a toxic work environment of sexual harassment or sexual orientation discrimination.
The bill, introduced on Tuesday April 9, is called the "Be HEARD" Act: Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace. Pressley stated that the legislation “...would put us one step closer to making toxic workplace harassment and discrimination a dark memory of the past.”
The Be HEARD Act would require employers to report all incidents of sexual harassment. It would also ban non-disclosure agreements, which may make employees less likely to speak out, and it would end mandatory arbitration in which there is no judge or jury. The existing anti-retaliation laws would be amended with additional protections. A grant would fund legal services for low-wage employees seeking representation for a workplace sexual harassment incident.
Perhaps most importantly, the bill would eliminate the tipped minimum wage, since tipped workers (typically servers and bartenders) are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Clark stated that many low-wage, tipped workers are more likely to experience harassment, as it can be part of the job expectation in food service roles. Customers or managers can get away with inappropriate behavior because the tipped employee (who is statistically more likely to be a woman) fears retaliation.
Clark summarized the intent of the anti-harassment bill by saying: "Women and men in every type of workplace have seen harassment and discrimination be brushed aside for far too long. Today we have a simple message: Time’s up."
According to WBUR, the following representatives are all co-sponsors of the Be HEARD in the Workplace Act:
- Washington Senator Patty Murray (D)
- Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D)
- Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D)
- Senator Elizabeth Warren (D)
- Senator Ed Markey (D)
Legislators who oppose the bill have not come forward to comment on Be Heard just yet, but assuming it passes the House, it may face significant challenges in the Republican-controlled Senate.