Today, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-8), and Marilyn Strickland (D-WA-10) reintroduced the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination (BE HEARD) in the Workplace Act of 2021. This legislation is the first comprehensive response to the #MeToo movement, and takes critical steps to prevent workplace harassment and ensure workers can seek accountability and justice.
“Today, we’re saying enough is enough: no more silence, no more complacency,” said Assistant Speaker Clark. “Whether you’re an assistant, an actress, a waitress, or an executive, workplace harassment is unacceptable, and victims must have the ability to seek justice. The BE HEARD in the Workplace Act will broaden civil rights protections, ensure access to a legal process, expand victims’ rights, and help change the culture of silence and abuse. This is about justice and respect for every worker, and nothing less should be tolerated under the law.”
“Healthy communities include healthy workplaces – where everyone can do their best work, free of abuse and harassment,” said Laura R. Van Zandt, Executive Director of REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, Inc. “BE HEARD in the Workplace Act provides important structure to support companies in doing their best to create those spaces. REACH works with schools, businesses and faith communities – along with families, friends and neighbors – promoting healthy boundaries, respect and consent. As an employer, we are committed to those practices as well, and BE HEARD can give all employers a helpful roadmap.
Even years after the #MeToo movement first began, workers across the country continue to face sexual harassment at work. For some workers, the pandemic has only made already pervasive sexual harassment worse—particularly for women in the food service industry, who have reported a dramatic increase in sexual harassment, including customers harassing them to take off their masks in order to judge their looks. The continuing epidemic of sexual harassment at work highlights the urgent need to pass the BE HEARD Act, particularly as workers across the country return to in-person work.
This legislation includes key reforms including ending mandatory arbitration and pre-employment NDAs to help ensure transparency, expanding civil rights protections for workers—including independent contractors and interns, extending the time limit for reporting and challenging harassment, and ending the tipped minimum wage—a key reform to ensure workers don’t have to endure harassment from customers because their wages depend on tips.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you work—everyone deserves to be treated fairly, respectfully, and with dignity,” said Senator Murray. “Yet for too many workers, going to work still means putting up with sexual harassment and discrimination—and in some cases, the pandemic has only made this pervasive problem that much worse. This critical legislation will change that, by expanding protection for workers and ensuring they get the accountability and justice they deserve. I’m so proud to re-introduce the BE HEARD Act alongside my colleagues—because so long as workers continue to face sexual harassment, we will keep demanding better and fighting for change.”
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 antidiscrimination 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.
The legislation has been endorsed by: Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, A Better Balance, AFL-CIO, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, American Association of University Women (AAUW), Building Pathways, Inc, California Employment Lawyers Association, Chicago Women in Trades, Clearinghouse on Women's Issues, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Economic Policy Institute, Equal Rights Advocates, Family Violence Law Center, Feminist Majority, Gender Equality Law Center, Inc., Hollaback!, Human Rights Campaign, Justice for Migrant Women, KWH Law Center for Social Justice and Change, Legal Momentum - The Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, National Center for Women's Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment, National Council for Occupational Safety & Health, National Council of Jewish Women, National Employment Law Project, National Employment Lawyers Association, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Organization for Women, National Partnership for Women & Families, Now VA, Inc, Philly CLUW , Public Citizen, ROC United, Service Employees International Union, The Purple Campaign, The Women's Law Center of Maryland, TIME’S UP Now, V-Day, Women Employed, Women's Law Project, Working IDEAL, and Workplace Fairness.