WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) introduced the Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act, legislation that would require publicly traded companies to disclose the presence and status of sexual harassment and discrimination claims as well as any financial settlements paid out to victims. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have sparked a national conversation about the need for more protections, transparency and accountability in the workplace. And in the case of publicly traded companies, mishandling of allegations of harassment and discrimination have had profound repercussions for companies and their shareholders.
“The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have highlighted the need to address sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace,” said Representative Ted Lieu. “These movements exposed the reality that some companies sacrifice the safety and well-being of their employees to ensure the retention of more senior executives known to harm them. The Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act removes the incentives and ability of companies to conceal and protect known perpetrators, provides an impartial means to report and investigate allegations, and expands education of employee rights and employer responsibilities. The bill also protects the financial health and stability of a company while protecting investor interests.”
In fiscal years 2010–2019, U.S. employers paid out over $400 million to employees who alleged sex-based harassment through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) administrative enforcement pre-litigation process. In November 2017, 21st Century Fox agreed to a $90 million settlement with shareholders who alleged in a lawsuit that directors failed to rein in senior executives who sexually harassed female employees. In 2018, Wynn shares tumbled 10% after reports of decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct by CEO Steve Wynn. In 2019, shareholders filed a lawsuit against Google over payouts to executives accused of sexual harassment. Most recently, in September 2020, black former McDonald’s franchisees sued the company for racial discrimination.
Given these recent headlines, companies would be remiss if they did not give some thought to disclose their employment practices as it relates to harassment and discrimination. Companies should pay attention to these issues, not only to combat inappropriate behavior and empower employees, but also because they are responsible for risks that affect their companies’ bottom lines and have an obligation to shareholders to exercise oversight in the company and promote sound governance practices.
The Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act would:
Require public companies to report information related to existing and resolved claims of sexual assault, abuse and harassment as well as discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), national origin, age, disability, genetic information, and service member status.
Require public companies to disclose the existence of repeat offenders by disclosing the existence of repeat settlements as it pertains to a specific individual.
Require public companies to disclose information on their efforts to prevent the harassment, discrimination, and abuse by their employees.
Require public companies to disclose the average length of time it takes to resolve discrimination and harassment complaints.
Requires public companies to engage and pay for independent, licensed investigators to investigate claims.
Requires employers to develop and disseminate workplace training programs to educate employees at all levels, no matter what position, about what constitutes prohibited discrimination and harassment, how to report, how to prevent this behavior, and what rights individuals have.
Requires public companies to establish an anonymous whistle blower tip-line for employees.
The Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act is endorsed by: A Better Balance, American Association of University Women, Equal Pay Today, Equal Rights Advocates, Futures Without Violence, Gender Equality Law Center, Gender Justice, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Organization for Women, National Partnership for Women & Families, Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Positive Results Center, The Arc, Women’s Law Project, Women’s Economic Institute, Inc
The following organizations released a statement in support of the bill:
“Sadly, too many women still face sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace — and we must do everything we can to combat these persistent threats to women’s economic security. We applaud the introduction of the Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act, which would provide another vital tool to ensure that women have the protections they deserve. The kind of transparency this bill mandates will help create a workplace culture of trust and openness that will bring us a step closer to achieving gender equity,” said Kimberly Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
“Catholic social teaching calls us to defend the right of workers and safeguard their right to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act expands protections against discrimination and harassment, and it requires greater employer transparency in reporting workplace violations,” said Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. “As a Catholic Sister committed to transforming unjust systems that put people last, I am proud to support Representative Ted Lieu’s bill and the future it envisions to prioritize workers and their needs.”
“The Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act would establish a comprehensive approach at identifying systemic discrimination, harassment and abuse in the workplace through required reporting by employers to the Securities and Exchange Commission,” said Christian F. Nunes, President of the National Organization for Women. “The reporting, in itself, would serve as a deterrent for companies to allow such behaviors to remain unaddressed. Also, very importantly, the Act’s mandated training for all employees to learn about unacceptable behaviors and what their rights are will help assure that our workplaces are safer and more respectful.”
“If we want a thriving economy that works for everyone, we must ensure that employees are guaranteed workplaces free from all forms of discrimination and harassment,” said C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“Sexual harassment remains a real and serious problem in America’s workplaces,” said Esta Soler, President and Founder of Futures Without Violence. “Stopping it requires a multi-pronged approach that includes accurate data, accountability and proactive prevention programs focused on culture change. Given the economic crisis created by COVID 19 and the President’s poor response to it, women and all workers are at greater risk for exploitation – that’s why legislation like Congressman Lieu’s is so important. It helps ensures that employees are protected from the worst possible kinds of workplace abuses.”
“The Positive Results Center is honored to endorse Congressman Lieu’s legislation to combat sexual abuse, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace,” said Kandee Lewis, Executive Director of the Positive Results Center. “PRC’s mission addresses trauma from a culture prospective, creating awareness to prevent trauma that comes from experiencing violence and abuse. We have heard of countless incidents whereby friends and co-workers have experienced workplace violence. From the subtle way someone may “accidently touch you” to colleagues intimidating and harassing you to the point of tears, these are people’s constant realities. Furthermore, reports show Black women file sexual harassment charges at nearly three times the rate of white, non-Hispanic women. In every industry, Black women are disproportionately represented among women who filed sexual harassment charges. It is in the silence that allows the violence to grow and fester. We thank Congressman Lieu for introducing this bill to provide more transparency and protections in the workplace.”
“Law that exposes systemic racism, gender discrimination, and social injustice balances America’s economic scales by moving the nation closer to the probability of a more just society; a society where all Americans can live to their fullest potential,” said Charlene Tarver, Founder and Executive Director of The Women’s Economic Institute, Inc. “A society where women and individuals of every race, ethnicity or creed have equity in their person and their labor. Global protests following the death of George Floyd, coupled with the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, have positioned our nation to seek greater disclosure and accountability in the treatment of women and marginalized communities. Congressman Lieu’s legislation is a reminder that we must urge transparency and accountability at all levels of society and not be complicit by omission. The law can and must fashion a more perfect union albeit our pathway has been far too circuitous.”
“Domestic workers make all other work possible,” said Haeyoung Yoon, National Domestic Workers Alliance Senior Policy Director. “As home care workers, nannies and house cleaners, their work ensures the safety and independence of seniors and people with disabilities; allows parents to work by providing care for children; and keeps homes clean and healthy. Yet too often they are excluded from protections against discrimination and harassment and experience workplace harassment at alarmingly high rates. The Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act is an important step to ensure that employers are creating an environment where workers can do their jobs with safety and dignity.”
“Everyone deserves a safe work environment free from harassment and gender discrimination,” said Erin Maye Quade, Advocacy Director at Gender Justice. “This bill will implement long overdue measures to increase accountability measures for sexual harassment, and shift workplace cultures to be more inclusive and equitable for everyone. Gender Justice commends Rep. Lieu’s work in the fight for gender equity.”
“The Gender Equality Law Center applauds Representative Ted Liu’s proposed new bill: the “Protections and Transparency Act,” said Allegra L. Fishel, Founder and Executive Director of the Gender Equality Law Center. “Without direct corporate accountability, workplaces are slow to recognize the problem of sexual harassment or to ignore it entirely, more often than not putting the onus on victims to complain as a means of resolving the problem. Many, if not the majority of victims are afraid to do so for good reasons, namely retaliation. The reporting and accountability provisions of this bill will ensure that companies themselves must be accountable for their workplace cultures and that a regulatory agency will have appropriate oversight in mandating compliance.”
“The Protections and Transparency in the Workplace Act provides important mechanisms for preventing and addressing discrimination, including by requiring anti-harassment training and requiring companies to report information on harassment claims,” said Amal Bass, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Women’s Law Project. “This bill shines a light on a system of secrecy that has protected perpetrators of harassment, including sexual harassment, for too long, while also ensuring privacy for survivors of these acts. The Women’s Law Project endorses this bill.”
“You can’t change what you can’t see. With this bill, Rep. Lieu is addressing one of the most important aspects of tackling workplace harassment and discrimination: meaningful transparency,” said Dina Bakst, Co-Founder and Co-President of A Better Balance. “Requiring public companies to report discrimination and harassment claims, requiring that such claims be investigated by neutral parties, and requiring training to prevent further discrimination and harassment from taking place will go a long way in creating safe, dignified, and equal workplaces.”
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