Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that could strengthen protections against workplace harassment.
The “Be Heard Act” – also known as the “Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace Act” – was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray and Reps. Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley, Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. The bill has also received support from Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker.
What protections will the “Be Heard Act” provide?
Despite civil rights laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), many employers continue to get away with violating workers’ rights.
According to Murray, the bill “will empower workers to come forward by providing new resources and support and it will safeguard existing anti-discrimination laws while expanding protections to make it clear that all workers — all workers — are protected under our civil rights laws.”
In addition to protecting workers from harassment, the “Be Heard Act” would:
- Eliminate tipped minimum wage and enforce fair pay
- Put an end to mandatory arbitration and pre-employment non-disclosure agreements
- Increase the amount of time allowed to report harassment
- The bill was spurred by a 2018 report published by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
In addition to protections against workplace harassment, the committee recommended that the bill include provisions to:
- Strengthen workers’ rights to join unions
- Expand protections to include independent contractors or small business employees
- Clarify protections for LGBT workers
- Provide access to legal representation
Murray met with representatives from 17 industries with the highest percentages of harassment charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission throughout the past decade. The top five include:
- Health care
- Social assistance
- Public administration and accommodation
- Food services
“We are balancing the scale that has been tipped toward the wealthy, the well-connected and the powerful for far too long. The Be Heard Act will put long-overdue protections and accountability into law and remove barriers to justice,” Clark said.
Don’t fear retaliation. Know your rights!
Many workers hesitated to report harassment to their employer or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission due to fear of retaliation, including:
- Changes in positions, being demoted, being passed or delayed on a promotion, or being fired.
- Facing stigma among co-workers.
In addition, many workers don’t file harassment complaints because they simply don’t know their rights are what course of action to take. Some have a distrust in the system. That’s why if you have faced harassment of any kind on the job, it’s crucial that you act.