Women in Congress are Taking on Sexual Harassment with the EMPOWER Act

Women lawmakers in Congress are not putting up with idleness toward the fight against workplace sexual harassment. Unwavering, the voices of the #MeToo movement have sailed up the marble stairs of Congress—and on June 5, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the EMPOWER Act to end sexual harassment for all women workers.

“Sexual harassment and misconduct must not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere,” declared Sen. Harris. “The culture of fear and silence created by perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace has existed for far too long and must come to an end. It’s time to address the gaps in our laws that allow this misconduct to go unpunished and keep it in the shadows.”

The EMPOWER Act prohibits non-disparagement and nondisclosure clauses as “a condition of employment, promotion, compensation, benefits or change in employment status” that deal with sexual harassment—putting an end to the clauses that have been used to blockade victims from speaking out in the past. Along with this prohibition, companies would not be allowed to have tax deductions for legal fees incurred through sexual harassment cases, and they would be required to disclose the number of settlements for sexual harassment cases and the presence of individuals with repeated settlements in their yearly SEC filings.

“No matter who you are or where you work, harassment in the workplace is not acceptable,” Sen. Murkowski said in a statement. “We have a choice to make: either sit on the sidelines and hope for change, or roll up our sleeves to make the change. We must work to identify where harassment is its most pervasive; where it has been allowed to foster in a culture of silence, disrespect, intimidation and abuse. And we must empower victims to speak out about the harassment they face.”

In addition to new regulations for employers, the EMPOWER Act would also create a confidential tip line for harassment reports under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, aiding the department in weeding out employers who maintain harassment in the workplace. “For too long, workplace harassment has remained in the shadows,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told Ms. “By increasing transparency and making it easier for victims to come forward, the EMPOWER Act would help expose and prevent workplace misconduct, putting harassers on notice: enough is enough.”

The EMPOWER Act has the support of human rights groups across the country—including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Partnership of Women & Families, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Equal Rights Advocates, Futures Without Violence, Equal Pay Today, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, the National Council of Jewish Women and People For the American Way.

“The Feminist Majority applauds Senators Kamala Harris and Lisa Murkowski for taking action and developing meaningful tools for workers to fight back against sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination,” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, said in a support statement for the bill. “Their leadership on this critical issue gives voice to millions of people facing sexual harassment every day. From farm workers to hotel workers to office workers, no one is immune from sexual harassment which undermines economic security and violates basic human rights.”


Eleanor Salsbury is a former editorial intern at Ms.