Murkowski, Harris Address Workplace Harassment
Legislation Increases Transparency and Accountability
U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) recently reintroduced comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to address the ongoing issue of workplace harassment and reduce barriers that prevent victims from speaking out and seeking justice. The Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace Harassment through Education and Reporting (EMPOWER) Act arms individuals with the resources they need to address workplace harassment. The bill works to reverse the culture of silence by prohibiting non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses (NDAs) that employers have required to sign as a condition of receiving a job and holds employers accountable by requiring public companies to disclose settlements related to workplace harassment.
“Everyone deserves dignity and safety in a workplace that is free from harassment. And in the unfortunate event that harassment does occur, we must do what we can to create an environment of transparency where victims feel empowered to speak up without the fear of retaliation,” said Senator Murkowski. “This legislation gives victims a voice and works to end harassment in the workplace. The shift in culture we need may not happen overnight, but this is a step in the right direction.”
- Prohibits non-disparagement 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 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (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; and
- 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; trains bystanders on how to intervene and report; and develops a public service advertisement campaign to provide further education on this issue.