A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill aimed at strengthening protections against workplace harassment on Tuesday. The "Be Heard Act" which stands for “Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace Act” would extend federal discrimination laws and would have a large impact on people in the service industry.
The "Be Heard Act" was introduced in the House and Senate on Tuesday by Sen. Patty Murray and Reps. Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley, Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Several 2020 Democratic presidential contenders have also signed onto the legislation including Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, according to The Hill.
“When we started work on the 'Be Heard Act' we’d heard a lot about abuses of power in Hollywood and in Congress, what we wanted to do was shine a spotlight on workers who were not in those headlines. We found that millions of workers are not protected under our civil rights laws,” said Murray at a press conference Tuesday, “[‘The Be Heard Act’] will establish new, clear standards to strengthen prevention in workplaces nationwide, it will empower workers to come forward by providing new resources and support and it will safeguard existing anti-discrimination laws while expanding protections to make it clear that all workers — all workers — are protected under our civil rights laws.” The bill would eliminate tipped minimum wage so employers are responsible for ensuring fair pay, end mandatory arbitration and pre-employment non-disclosure agreements and give workers more time to report harassment among other protections, according to The Hill.
The catalyst for the bill was a report published by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last December. Murray, the ranking member, and her team met with representatives from 17 industry associations selected because they have the highest percentages of harassment charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission throughout the past decade. Many of the individuals they spoke with were in male-dominated industries with large numbers of workers of color, young workers, immigrant workers and workers with limited English proficiency, according to the report. The five top industries with the most charges filed were manufacturing, health care and social assistance, retail, public administration and accommodation and food services, they found.
The number of charges doesn’t indicate the full extent of the problem. When Murray and the team spoke with workers, fear of retaliation was the most common explanation for why they hesitated to report harassment to their employer or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Workers are concerned that if they report, their employers may move them from their offices, demote them, delay promotion, change their job duties, or even fire them. They worry that their coworkers may ostracize them, or they will get a reputation of being ‘difficult’ to work with. While retaliation for filing a claim is illegal, one study found that two-thirds of surveyed workers who spoke out against workplace harassment faced some form of retaliation,” the report states. Other reasons people might not report harassment include financial barriers, not knowing their rights, not having access to legal representation, not knowing how to file a claim, not trusting the reporting process or not being able to file because of the statute of limitations.
The report highlighted alleged experiences of sexual harassment faced by more than a dozen men and women including a housekeeper, dishwasher, freelance beautician and a nanny who didn’t feel protected. In multiple instances, the alleged harasser threatened to report the person for being undocumented. The committee recommended that Congress should strengthen workers rights to join unions, expand protections to workers at small businesses and independent contractors, clarify that LGBT workers are protected and provide workers with access to legal representation, among other recommendations.
“Today, we’re saying time’s up: no more silence, no more compliance,” said Clark. “We are balancing the scale that has been tipped toward the wealthy, the well-connected and the powerful for far too long. The Be Heard Act will put long-overdue protections and accountability into law and remove barriers to justice.”
“This is all based on a very straightforward principle: No matter who you are or where you work — whether you are the only woman on the board, or a janitor or a farm worker, you should be treated fairly, respectfully and with dignity. This should be true no matter your gender or race, your religion or sexual orientation or age — regardless of whether you have a disability or are a veteran,” said Murray at this week's press conference, “But as we all know —as any of the brave workers who are here today will tell you — it has not been true for far too long and for far too many people in our country. It is well past time that this changed and I am so proud to be standing with all of you and making clear: Time is up.”
Original story here.