The BE HEARD Act is comprehensive legislation to prevent workplace harassment, strengthen and expand key protections for workers, and support workers in seeking accountability and justice
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, 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.
“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.”
The BE HEARD Act will:
- 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.
- 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.
In addition to Senator Murray, the Senate bill is co-sponsored by: Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ben Luján (D-NM), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
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.