Bustle: What Is The EMPOWER Act? This Workplace Harassment Bill Could Make NDAs A Thing Of The Past
Proposed legislation designed for the #MeToo era has made it to Congress. Members of the House plan to introduce the bipartisan EMPOWER Act on Wednesday, aimed at combatting workplace harassment and making it less dangerous for employees to come forward about inappropriate behavior.
"Ultimately, there is a monopoly of power in workplace harassment — those who control a paycheck, or a reputation, or a promotion have the power to perpetrate harassment, to protect harassers, and to silence victims," an official summary of the bill reads. "This moment calls for action. Workplace harassment is illegal, but still ubiquitous. We must address gaps in the law that make it so."
After Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a version of the proposed law last month, members of the House will introduce a sister bill this week. The EMPOWER Act, which stands for Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting, has been endorsed by at least 21 advocacy organizations, including the National Women’s Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign.
The bill's main goals are to prohibit non-disparagement and non-disclosure agreements in employee contracts, require public companies to disclose settlements, establish a confidential tip-line for reporting, and reform the tax code to ensure survivors aren’t penalized.
"Harassment and discrimination persist because employers have virtually unlimited control to silence employees who complain when they face illegal treatment on the job," Terry O’Neill, executive director of the National Employment Lawyers Association, said in a statement. "This bill would stop employers from imposing their one-sided terms on victims of workplace abuse, and ends the tax penalty on those who succeed in holding their employers accountable."
The current tax penalty occurs when an employee wins a harassment suit, and the bill aims to protect plaintiffs’ awards and settlements as nontaxable income. If passed, the proposed law would also prohibit companies from receiving tax deductions for expenses and attorneys’ fees related to harassment cases, as well as the money paid in court-ordered compensation to survivors.
As for non-disparagement and non-disclosure agreements, it would become illegal for employers to include clauses covering workplace harassment.