#MeToo Movement Sparks Bill to 'Stop Culture of Silence' in Workplaces

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek July 19, 2018
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A bipartisan bill was introduced Wednesday night in Congress that would prohibit employers from requiring employees to agree to nondisclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace Harassment through Education and Reporting (EMPOWER) Act also establishes a confidential tipline to report harassment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; outlines workplace training requirements; and mandates that public companies disclose workplace harassment settlements, judgments, aggregate settlements and repeat settlements in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Additionally, it prohibits companies from benefitting monetarily from such settlements, such as by receiving tax deductions for expenses and attorney fees in connection with harassment litigation.

"This bill will help stop the culture of silence in cases of sexual harassment, … bring more accountability to the perpetrators and empower victims," said Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., in a news release.

She was among bill sponsors Reps. Lois Frankel, D-Fla.; Ted Poe, R-Tex.; Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.; and Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del. Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a similar bill on the Senate floor last month.

Twenty-two organizations endorse the bill, an outgrowth of the #MeToo movement that gained widespread attention following sexual misconduct allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in October 2017.

SHRM Online has collected the following articles from its archives and other respected news sources on workplace harassment and #MeToo.   

#MeToo Complaints Swamp Human Resources Departments 

Weinstein's indictment on rape charges came nearly eight months after allegations against him first surfaced. His case touched off a global #MeToo movement to speak out against workplace sexual harassment. That, in turn, has created a deluge of complaints to human resources departments everywhere. It's a long overdue reckoning, said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. 
(NPR)  

#MeToo Called for an Overhaul. Are Workplaces Really Changing? 

The revelations about the pervasiveness of harassment—and of the legal and institutional failures to address it—illuminate how tough it will be to extinguish. 
(The New York Times and SHRM Online)

In Wake of #MeToo, More U.S. Companies Reviewed Their Sexual Harassment Policies 

The allegations against Weinstein have reverberated far beyond the entertainment industry. Now more companies are taking action to prevent workplace sexual harassment. 
(MarketWatch)  

Former Comcast Employees Test the Limits of the #MeToo Movement

The #MeToo movement is based on a basic premise: Speak up. For a lot of women, that's gotten results. But as a trio of former Comcast workers are finding, speaking up has its limits. 
(Bloomberg)  

EEOC Wants to Leverage Transformative Power of #MeToo 

A "great cultural awakening" over workplace harassment and the social movements is seeing "second- and third-generation issues" emerge and demand attention, said Victoria A. Lipnic, acting chair for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Employers should create respectful workplaces through civility and bystander-intervention training instead of being overly focused on compliance and legal liability, she said last month, when the agency's Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace reconvened.
(SHRM Online)   

Leverage #MeToo Movement for Significant Change  

HR professionals need to leverage the #MeToo movement to stop harassment, being sure to issue a "proportionate and timely response" when confronted with an accusation, according to EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum. Her overarching recommendations to employers are to change workplace culture, hold people accountable, and provide the right policies, procedures and training. 
(SHRM Online)  

Viewpoint: #MeToo, Congress and Supreme Court: Who Gets the Last Word on Sexual Harassment? 

Lawmakers must turn to addressing the problem more broadly. They should start by abolishing a powerful legal tool that has allowed sexual misconduct to remain in the shadows for too long: forced secret arbitration. 
(The Hill)  

Workplace Harassment Resources 

The Society for Human Resource Management created this resource center to help HR with training, policies and many other aspects of responding to inappropriate behaviors in the workplace. 
(SHRM Online)

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