For far too long, companies have used involuntary nondisclosure agreements to hide sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s time to end this questionable practice.
That is why I worked with my Democratic colleague Rep. Morgan Cephas of Philadelphia to co-author a bill that bans nondisclosure agreements related to sexual harassment as a condition of employment. This legislation has already seen a bi-partisan group of lawmakers sign on as co-sponsors; and we are hopeful it will receive further support when it comes up for a vote in the House Labor and Industry Committee.
House Bill 849
would ensure workers who face sexual harassment in the workplace can exercise their voice to report such egregious offenses they may suffer at the hands of a co-worker or superior. Pennsylvania workers deserve protection from workplace sexual harassment and employers deserve the necessary tools to create a safe, productive working environment for their employees.
Some potential employees are forced to sign agreements that forbid them from talking about disputes, including sexual harassment claims. These agreements regarding sexual harassment drive a divide between a victim of harassment and justice; and protect the perpetrator. Some of these agreements prevent an employee or prospective employee from even reporting or participating in an investigation of sexual harassment.
House Bill 849 remedies this issue and is similar to legislation, the EMPOWER Act, introduced in Congress. Instead of waiting for Congress to enact its own legislation, Rep. Cephas and I took the initiative to more forward with protecting Pennsylvanians.
Over the course of the past year or so, we’ve all heard in the news stories of unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault in the workplace. Though these cases involved high-profile people, sexual harassment sadly happens everywhere.
According to a recent online survey, 81% of the 996 female respondents and 45% of the 1,013 male respondents said they were victims of unwanted sexual advancements. The most common form of sexual harassment was verbal, the survey found.
The 81% of woman who said they experienced some form of sexual harassment, 31% said it happened at their place of employment.
Thirty-one percent of the women who responded to the survey said they felt anxious or depressed after being harassed, while 7% sought medical assistance, including mental health counseling, and 9% quit or changed jobs. Only 10% of the victims filed a report with an authority figure and 1% confronted the person who was harassing them.
Instances of sexual harassment are clearly traumatizing for victims. There is no conceivable reason they should be denied the right to confront their harassers simply because it happened in a work environment.
Ideally, harassment would be a thing of the past. Fortunately, the number of reported cases of sexual harassment has dropped over the years. But until the number of workplace-related sexual harassment drops to zero, we must remove barriers, like these nondisclosure agreements, so victims have a voice.
Representative Kate A. Klunk
169th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross