The #MeToo movement sparked an unprecedented level of action on sexual harassment in the workplace from public figures such as actors, athletes, employers and now, Capitol Hill.
Congresswoman Jacky Rosen of Nevada introduced the Sunlight in Workplace Harassment Act on Feb. 27, in an effort to pass a bill that would require companies to disclose information on how complaints are handled and protect victims of harassment in the workplace.
“Sexual harassment in the workplace is not a partisan issue, and I am thrilled to have Republican Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina joining us as a co-sponsor on this important bill to shine a spotlight on this problem,” Rep. Rosen said. “Having bipartisan support will be key to ensuring this legislation moves out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote.”
According to a 2016 study conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of Workplace Harassment in the United States around 25 percent to 85 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace and predict that one in four people are affected by workplace sexual harassment.
Rosen’s proposed measure would require publicly-traded companies to disclose a number of things, such as the number and monetary value of settlements paid out as a result of sexual harassment and other discrimination claims against corporate officers to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A report of the average length of time it takes to resolve harassment complaints and detail information on their efforts to prevent the perpetration of harassment, discrimination, and abuse by their employees would also be required, though the act will prohibit the SEC from disclosing the names of accusers and provide accusers with the option of limiting the extent to which details of their settlements are disclosed to the public.
“The #MeToo movement has helped shed light on the once-invisible struggles of countless women who have dealt with sexual misconduct in the workplace,” Rosen said. “For too long, we’ve seen those who have had the courage to speak out against their abusers lose their jobs and even their careers just for sharing their story. It’s past time we end this culture of abuse by those in power, and I am committed to doing my part to solve this very real problem for workers in Nevada and across the country.”
Although the act is placing tougher guidelines on how harassment cases are handled by companies, others believe that the bill should only have to do with the sexual harassment case itself rather than the company.
“I have mixed feelings about this Bill. On the one hand, bringing sexual harassment issues out in the open is a very good idea,” said Mark Mausert, a civil rights lawyer representing the women involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the City of Reno. “On the other hand, many companies make reasonable efforts to prevent sexual harassment and to remediate it when it happens. When a settlement occurs, those companies are paying to ensure privacy, to avoid public scrutiny and being stigmatized.”
Rosen says that the disclosure of information is needed of publicly-traded companies because it will help diminish powerful companies that are causing victims to suffer financially. In 1994, the Merit Systems Protection Board reported that as a result of sexual harassment, federal agencies faced a multitude of costs. Such costs included job turnover ($24.7 million), sick leave ($14.9 million) and productivity ($193.8 million), costing the government a total of $327.1 million. The MSPB also reported that since 2010, employers have paid out $698.7 million to employees alleging harassment solely for the pre-litigation process that is paid through the Commission’s administrative enforcement.
“Workplace harassment has a very real economic and personal cost for millions of women across America, and it’s on us to help put an end to this abuse of power that pushes people out of their jobs and harms their careers,” Rosen said. “The current system allows corporate executives to sweep inappropriate behavior under the rug, and these reporting requirements will ensure a new level of accountability, transparency, and a path forward on how to end this systemic abuse that has permeated every corner of our society from Hollywood to Washington, to the Las Vegas strip.”
Mausert says that the way to prevent harassment in the workplace comes down to educating and instilling emotional intelligence.
“People need to learn to impose boundaries and to be strong enough to understand and empathize,” Mausert said. “Employees, including men, need to understand it is not only acceptable but mandatory, to intervene when becoming aware of sexual harassment. They are not lesser beings for doing so.”
The bill has since been endorsed by various organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Arc of the United States, and Human Rights Campaign, and is being accompanied by a companion bill that was introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Karolina Rivas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @karolinarrivas.