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November 17, 2021

Pressley, Clark, Garcia, Murray, Hirono, Slotkin, Strickland Reintroduce BE HEARD Act to Address Workplace Harassment

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7), Assistant Speaker of the House Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-8), and Marilyn Strickland (D-WA-10), along with U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), reintroduced the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination (BE HEARD) in the Workplace Act of 2021, which takes critical steps to prevent workplace harassment and ensure workers can seek accountability and justice.  

Even years after the #MeToo movement first began, workers across the country continue to face sexual harassment at work. For some workers, the pandemic has only made already pervasive sexual harassment even worse—particularly for women in the food service industry, who have reported a dramatic increase in sexual harassment, including customers harassing them to take off their masks in order to judge their looks. The continuing epidemic of sexual harassment at work highlights the urgent need to pass the BE HEARD Act, particularly as workers across the country return to in-person work.  

This legislation includes key reforms including ending mandatory arbitration and pre-employment NDAs to help ensure transparency, expanding civil rights protections for workers—including independent contractors and interns, extending the time limit for reporting and challenging harassment, and ending the tipped minimum wage—a key reform to ensure workers don’t have to endure harassment from customers because their wages depend on tips.  

“Every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, but far too many workers are subjected to workplace violence, toxic harassment and discrimination on the job. That must change,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “Our bill would address this crisis head on by extending critical protections against harassment and discrimination to all working people and supporting workers as they seek accountability, justice and healing. For too long, too many of our most vulnerable workers have been forced to suffer in silence. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this comprehensive bill that will help us legislate justice and center their voices and lived experiences once and for all.” 

“Today, we’re saying enough is enough: no more silence, no more complacency. Whether you’re an assistant, an actress, a waitress, or an executive, workplace harassment is unacceptable, and victims must have the ability to seek justice. The Be Heard Act will broaden civil rights protections, ensure access to a legal process, expand victims’ rights, and help change the culture of silence and abuse. This is about justice and respect for every worker, and nothing less should be tolerated under the law,” said Assistant Speaker Clark. 

“Too many workers wake up every day in fear of going to work because they know they will be harassed, disrespected, or worse,” said Congresswoman Garcia. “This problem has only gotten worse as the COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional strain on workers and resulted in increased harassment. Everyone should feel safe in their workplace and be treated with the dignity and respect that we all deserve. That’s why I am proud to join my colleagues and grateful for their support in re-introducing this important bill. By passing the BE HEARD Act, Congress will stand firm on the side of workers in my district and across the country.” 

“It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you work—everyone deserves to be treated fairly, respectfully, and with dignity.” said Senator Murray. “Yet for too many workers, going to work still means putting up with sexual harassment and discrimination—and in some cases, the pandemic has only made this pervasive problem that much worse. This critical legislation will change that, by expanding protection for workers and ensuring they get the accountability and justice they deserve. I’m so proud to re-introduce the BE HEARD Act alongside my colleagues—because so long as workers continue to face sexual harassment, we will keep demanding better and fighting for change.” 

“There is no question that workers face discrimination and sexual harassment in our workplaces. Even with the laws we have on the books and the #MeToo movement shedding light on this problem, it’s still way too easy for employers to get away with committing these offenses. Every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, or their personal decision to start a family. I’m proud to join Senator Murray and my House colleagues in re-introducing the BE HEARD Act which will take important steps to protect and empower workers, and stop employers from silencing anyone,” said Senator Hirono. 

“All workers, regardless of their background or their occupation, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Yet, many across our nation continue to face sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace without adequate recourse. With the Be HEARD Act, we are listening to workers’ voices and calling on Congress to provide the full protections, accountability and justice everyone deserves in the workplace,” said Congresswoman Strickland. 

“Our national conversation around sexual harassment is long overdue. For too long, women across industries and backgrounds have been unable to come forward to report harassment, or have been met with obstacles and retaliation for demanding their right to work free of harassment or discrimination,” said Rep. Slotkin. “I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues and survivors in reintroducing the Be HEARD Act – not just to update our laws and keep workers safe in the workplace, but to help change the leadership climate and culture that has for too long tolerated harassment and abuse. Enough.” 

The BE HEARD Act will:

  • Broaden and expand civil rights protections to all workers: The BE HEARD Act builds on and strengthens existing civil rights laws by expanding protections for workers, while also safeguarding existing antidiscrimination laws and protections. It strengthens civil rights protections for all workers and makes clear that the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the context of workplace discrimination. It also ensures that no matter where you work—and whether you are an independent contractor or an intern—your rights are protected.
  • Empower workers who come forward with reports of harassment or retaliation to ensure they get support: The BE HEARD Act allows workers more time to report harassment, authorizes grants to support legal assistance for workers who have low incomes, invests in delivering more resources to the state level to help workers ensure their rights are protected, and lifts the cap on damages when workers pursue legal action and win their cases.
  • Eliminate the tipped wage: The BE HEARD Act eliminates the tipped minimum wage, because tipped workers are disproportionately vulnerable to sexual harassment and discrimination by both clients and supervisors.
  • Strengthen understanding of workplace harassment and help businesses prevent it: The BE HEARD Act invests in research about the economic impact of workplace harassment, requires regular reporting on the prevalence of workplace harassment, and ensures that workers have access to more information and training about what constitutes harassment and their rights if they are harassed. 
  • Help ensure transparency: The BE HEARD Act puts an end to mandatory arbitration and pre-employment non-disclosure agreements, which prevent workers from coming forward and holding perpetrators and businesses accountable. 

The legislation has been endorsed by: Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, A Better Balance, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, American Association of University Women (AAUW), Building Pathways, Inc, California Employment Lawyers Association, Chicago Women in Trades, Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Economic Policy Institute, Equal Rights Advocates, Family Violence Law Center, Feminist Majority, Gender Equality Law Center, Inc., Human Rights Campaign, Justice for Migrant Women, KWH Law Center for Social Justice and Change, Legal Momentum, The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment, National Council for Occupational Safety & Health, National Council of Jewish Women, National Employment Law Project, National Employment Lawyers Association, National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Organization for Women, National Partnership for Women & Families, Now VA, Inc, Philly CLUW , Public Citizen, ROC United, Service Employees International Union, The Purple Campaign, The Women’s Law Center of Maryland, Women Employed, Women’s Law Project, Working IDEAL, and Workplace Fairness. 

“Women know all too well that workplace harassment is still commonplace in every industry and every type of job,” said Emily Martin, NWLC Vice President for Education & Workplace Justice. “The pandemic and economic uncertainty exacerbate vulnerability to abuse, especially among low-paid women of color who often must remain silent and endure the harassment to hold on to their jobs. Finally, there’s help on the way: the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act ensures that all workers have legal protections against harassment and abuse, activates bold reforms to promote transparency and accountability in the workplace, and removes barriers to securing justice—like ending short statutes of limitations. This bill is long overdue. Every working person deserves to have safety and dignity at work.” 

“Harassment and discrimination remain a painful reality of the workplace, denying workers equal employment opportunities and dignity. Women workers, especially those who labor in low wage jobs, continue to shine a light on this insidious problem. Today, members of Congress have responded to a call for action by introducing the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act. The bill strengthens and expands our nation’s antidiscrimination laws and addresses harassment on the basis of sex—including sexual orientation and gender identity—as well as race, ethnicity, age, disability, and religion. As a result, survivors of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination will have more legal protections and fewer barriers to justice. We are proud to support a bill that protects the civil rights and dignity of millions of workers and moves us towards lasting, systemic change,” said Vania Leveille, Senior Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union. 

“Harassment and abuse have no place on the job. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly with dignity and respect at work. But too many have been forced to endure abusive work environments, denied opportunities, or pushed out of jobs entirely because of unchecked harassment and discrimination. The BE HEARD in the Workplace Act would strengthen our civil rights laws and provide meaningful tools to prevent and address these unjust practices that often have devastating consequences, especially for historically marginalized and low-paid working people. We urge Congress to act on this bill to protect working people’s civil rights and  promote economic security,” said Wade Henderson, interim President and CEO of The Leadership Fund on Civil and Human Rights.