Harris, Murkowski Introduce Legislation to Curb Workplace Harassment and Increase Transparency and Accountability

U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today introduced the Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting (EMPOWER) Act to address the ongoing issue of workplace harassment and the pervasive culture of fear that has resulted from those in power silencing their victims. While recent accusations and reports of sexual harassment have highlighted its pervasiveness across states and across industries, this issue impacts individuals in all workplaces.

This comprehensive, bipartisan legislation will reduce the barriers that prevent victims from speaking out and seeking justice, put companies on notice that they can no longer financially protect harassers in secret, and arm individuals with the resources they need to address systemic workplace harassment. This includes prohibiting non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses (NDAs) that employers have required individuals to sign as a condition of receiving the job – which has perpetuated a culture of silence.

“No matter who you are or where you work, harassment in the workplace is not acceptable. We have a choice to make; either sit on the sidelines and hope for change, or roll up our sleeves to make the change. We must work to identify where harassment is its most pervasive; where it has been allowed to foster in a culture of silence, disrespect, intimidation, and abuse. And we must empower victims to speak out about the harassment they face,” said Senator Murkowski. “I am proud to be a part of this legislation which both prohibits efforts to silence victims and shines the light on harassment in the workplace. The change needed may not happen overnight, but with this legislation we can move to eliminate harassment in the workplace.”

“Sexual harassment and misconduct must not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere,” said Senator Harris. “The culture of fear and silence created by perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace has existed for far too long and must come to an end. It’s time to address the gaps in our laws that allow this misconduct to go unpunished and keep it in the shadows.”

Specifically, the Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting Act:

  • Prohibits nondisparagement and nondisclosure clauses that cover workplace harassment as a condition of employment, promotion, compensation, benefits, or change in employment status or contractual relationship;
  • Establishes a confidential tip-line to receive reports about harassment to allow EEOC to target employers that continue to allow for systemic harassment at the workplace. This would supplement the EEOC’s current formal complaint process. The information would be shared with state-based Fair Employment Practice Agencies, who could also bring civil enforcement actions against employers;
  • Requires that public companies disclose the number of settlements, judgments, and aggregate settlement amounts in connection with workplace harassment (as a material disclosure) in their annual SEC filings; and disclose the existence of repeat settlements with respect to a particular individual;
  • Prohibits companies from tax deductions for expenses and attorneys’ fees in connection with litigation related to workplace harassment; prohibits tax deductions for amounts paid pursuant to judgments related to workplace harassment; protects plaintiffs’ awards and settlements received in connection with workplace harassment as nontaxable income; and ensures that plaintiffs who receive frontpay or backpay as a result of harassment and discrimination are not taxed unjustly. 
  • Requires development and dissemination of workplace training programs to educate at all levels about what constitutes prohibited workplace harassment and how to prevent this behavior; educates employees about their rights with respect to workplace harassment, including how to report it; and trains bystanders on how to intervene and report; develops a public service advertisement campaign to provide further education on this issue.