Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination (Be HEARD) in the Workplace Act, legislation that takes critical steps to ensure businesses have more resources to prevent harassment and workers have more support when they seek accountability and justice. Be HEARD is the first comprehensive bill addressing workplace harassment and sexual assault following the #MeToo movement that emerged in 2017. It sends a clear message to those who think they can get away with assault or harassment on the job: time is up.
“Today, we’re saying time’s up: no more silence, no more compliance”, said Congresswoman 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.”
“No matter who you are or where you work—whether you are the only woman on the board, or a janitor, or 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—and regardless of whether you have a disability or are a veteran,” said Senator Murray. “For far too long and for far too many people in our country, this hasn’t been true. So today, I’m proud to be standing up to fight for change and make clear that time is up.”
Clark and Murray were joined by three House Democrats who are co-leading the bill, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-8), and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL-26).
“Our bill will put us one step closer to making toxic workplace harassment and discrimination a dark memory of the past,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “This is for the brave women of the Boston Fire Department, the hotel workers I worked alongside when I was scraping money together to help my family, the transgender men and women who face discrimination for living their truth. This is for those workers who shared their stories and instead of justice, faced retaliation. Now is the time to push the conversations and the policies so that those who have been suffering in silence feel seen and represented in our democracy.”
“The BE HEARD Act strengthens worker’s rights across America by expanding anti-workplace harassment laws to include employers with more than fifteen employees, tipped workers, contractors, volunteers, and interns”, said Congresswoman Mucarsel-Powell. “Additionally, it prevents LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination and ensures workers aren’t forced to give up their right to file harassment claims. It shouldn’t matter what you look like, whom you love, your seniority in the workplace, whether you are salaried or a tipped employee, every American must have the right to dignified employment.”
“Our national conversation about sexual harassment is long overdue. For too long, women across industries and backgrounds have been unable to come forward to report harassment, or have been met with obstacles and retaliation for demanding their right to work free of harassment or discrimination,” said Congresswoman Slotkin. “I’m so proud to stand alongside my colleagues and survivors to help introduce the Be HEARD Act to update our laws and provide workers more tools to stay safe in the workplace -- and help change the leadership climate and culture that has for too long tolerated harassment and abuse.”
At the press conference, survivors and advocates shared their personal stories about workplace assault and harassment, and leaders from the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spoke about the importance of Be HEARD.
The Be HEARD Act will:
- Strengthen understanding of workplace harassment and help businesses prevent it: The Be HEARD Act invests in research about the economic impact of workplace harassment, requires regular reporting on the prevalence of workplace harassment, and ensures that workers have access to more information and training about what constitutes harassment and their rights if they are harassed.
- Help ensure transparency: The Be HEARD Act puts an end to mandatory arbitration and pre-employment non-disclosure agreements, which prevent workers from coming forward and holding perpetrators and businesses accountable.
- Broaden and expand civil rights protections to all workers: The Be HEARD Act builds on and strengthens existing civil rights laws by expanding protections for workers, while also safeguarding existing anti-discrimination laws and protections. It strengthens civil rights protections for all workers and makes clear that the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the context of workplace discrimination. It also ensures that no matter where you work—and whether you are an independent contractor or an intern—your rights are protected.
- Empower workers who come forward with reports of harassment or retaliation to ensure they get support: The Be HEARD Act allows workers more time to report harassment, authorizes grants to support legal assistance for workers who have low incomes, invests in delivering more resources to the state level to help workers ensure their rights are protected, and lifts the cap on damages when workers pursue legal action and win their cases.
- Eliminate the tipped wage: The Be HEARD Act eliminates the tipped minimum wage, because tipped workers are disproportionately vulnerable to sexual harassment and discrimination by both clients and supervisors.
Other speakers at the press conference included: Veronica Tucker, worker and advocate with Restaurant Opportunity Centers, Jennifer Glover, security guard represented by TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, Adriana Cazorla, domestic worker and advocate with National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, Maria del Carmen Ruelas, farm worker with Justice for Migrant Women Advocates, Vanita Gupta, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, President and CEO, and Lenora Lapidus, ACLU Director of the Women’s Rights Project.
The Senate bill is co-sponsored by: Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
The legislation has been endorsed by: Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Women's Law Center (NWLC), NAACP, TIME'S UP, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Bazelon Center for Mental Health, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Women Employed, Working IDEAL, National Partnership for Women & Families, Justice for Migrant Women, UltraViolet, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), Futures Without Violence, National Employment Law Project (NELP), People for the American Way, Workplace Fairness, National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), J Street, 9to5, Women Donors Network, Feminist Majority, Harnish Foundation, RALIANCE, The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute for Law & Policy, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, Equal Rights Advocates, National Organization for Women, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Center for American Progress, American Association of University Women, Economic Opportunity Institute, Legal Voice, Communications Workers of America, Working Washington, Women’s Law Project, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Oxfam America, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment at CWIT, MS Black Women’s Roundtable, Make it Work Nevada, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), Compliance USA, Inc., Chicago Women’s Trades, Building Pathways, Black Women’s Roundtable, A Better Balance.