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Sen. Warren & Rep. Rosen: How Congress can combat sexual harassment

Sexual harassment isn't new. Every day, women ...

Posted: May 3, 2018 5:39 AM
Updated: May 3, 2018 5:39 AM

Sexual harassment isn't new. Every day, women across the country are catcalled on the street, groped by strangers and bullied online. Thanks to the brave women (and men) who have spoken out about this abuse, our country is taking a long overdue look at how to stop harassment once and for all.

Preventing harassment requires a cultural shift in how we think about women, power and the right of all people to live their lives with dignity -- and Congress has a role to play.

That's why we introduced the Sunlight in Workplace Harassment Act, a bill to increase the transparency of harassment in workplaces.

In recent months, one woman after another has come forward to expose the inappropriate sexual behavior of powerful men in the workplace. Some of those women initially reported their harassers and eventually received settlements, but only if they agreed to keep their mouths shut. Those secret settlements protected the harassers and their companies, allowing some perpetrators to continue harassing other employees year after year.

And while many stories have centered on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, harassment occurs in workplaces across the country -- including Congress.

Bipartisan bills like the ME TOO Congress Act, the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act and the Congressional Harassment Reform Act would force Congress to improve its harassment reporting procedures and disclose harassment settlements, including those that involve members of Congress.

Though those bills are currently in committee, Congress has taken a few positive steps forward already.

In February, the House passed legislation reforming its complaint process. The bipartisan legislation eliminates counseling and mediation requirements and requires all members, both current and past, to reimburse the Treasury for any money used to settle workplace misconduct or discrimination complaints. And in March, all 22 women senators called on Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles Schumer to take up legislation to reform its reporting procedures -- though the Senate has yet to take action.

Disclosing sexual harassment in Congress is important -- but it's not enough. People who work outside of Washington should have the same protection from harassment. The Sunlight in Workplace Harassment Act would help root out the problem by publicly exposing workplace harassment.

Our bill would require publicly traded companies to disclose in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings the total number and aggregate dollar amount of disputes settled by the company related to sexual abuse and harassment. To ensure that companies don't let settlements languish in internal HR reviews, our bill would force companies to disclose the average length of time it takes to settle harassment disputes and the number of disputes it has pending.

The bill also explicitly prohibits companies and the SEC from disclosing accusers' names. Finally, it requires companies to tell the public what steps they take to prevent harassment in their workplaces.

Sexual harassment is in the spotlight now, but it's not the only type of workplace discrimination that women -- and men -- face. Discrimination based on race, disability, religion, national origin and age often go hand in hand with sex discrimination. By requiring companies to disclose the total number and dollar amounts of settlements related to multiple types of harassment, our bill would help expose and prevent these types of discrimination, too.

Tackling sexual harassment requires a concerted and long-lasting effort from politicians, employers and everyday Americans alike. Congress should pass our bill -- and others like it -- to put harassers on notice: enough is enough.

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