Democratic Congresswomen Introduce Legislation to Prevent Workplace Harassment

A group of Democratic Congresswomen introduced legislation aimed to prevent workplace harassment and assault on Tuesday, April 9. The House bill, called the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination (Be HEARD) in the Workplace Act, was co-led by Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.). Seventeen Democrats are co-sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

“This is for the brave women of the Boston Fire Department, for the hotel workers I worked alongside when I was scrapping money together to help my family, for the transgender men and women who face discrimination for living their truth,” Pressley said in a statement. “This is for those workers who shared their stories and instead of justice, faced retaliation.”

She added that the bill would move the country a step closer “to making toxic workplace harassment and discrimination a dark memory of the past.” The Be HEARD in the Workplace Act aims to close loopholes in federal discrimination laws that leave domestic workers without legal protections from sexual harassment, Vox reported. Current federal laws against employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act only apply to businesses with 15 employees or more. The bill would extend those protections to all employees regardless of company size and even those who do not fall under the category of “employee,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) noted in a blog post.

The bill would also provide grants to low-income workers seeking legal assistance for harassment claims and would eliminate the lower minimum wage for tipped workers. The federal minimum wage for many tipped workers is a mere $2.13 an hour, forcing them to make the majority of their pay in gratuities. Some argue that this system makes workers vulnerable to harassment and wage theft. “Today, we’re saying time’s up: no more silence, no more compliance. We are balancing the scale that has for too long been tipped toward the wealthy, the well-connected and the powerful. The Be HEARD Act will put long-overdue protections and accountability into law and remove barriers to justice,” Representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) said in a statement.

The legislation received support and endorsement from dozens of human rights, women’s rights, and workers’ rights organizations, as well as labor unions, including the ACLU, National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), Oxfam America, AFL-CIO, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, TIME’S UP, and the Human Rights Campaign. The ACLU, which did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment, applauded the bill for strengthening and expanding federal anti-discrimination laws.

“A work life free from harassment, violence, and other forms of discrimination must no longer be out of reach,” Senior Legislative Counsel Vania Leveille and Lenora M. Lapidus, director of the Women’s Rights Project, wrote in a blog post for the ACLU. “Our laws can require it, our employers can impose it, our culture can foster it, and every working person can demand it.”

Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the NWLC, expressed similar sentiments and called the bill a “visionary effort that sets a new marker for reform in the fight to end the epidemic of harassment in the workplace.” She continued, “As the first comprehensive federal legislative solution for the workplace proposed in the wake of #MeToo going viral, it offers a groundbreaking set of reforms that responds to the demands for change that have reverberated across the country.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.