Thanks to the awareness brought by the #MeToo movement, the Legislature will hear a package of bills Wednesday aimed at harassment in private workplaces.
Two bills would remove obstacles that could hinder employees from coming forward with harassment claims, said state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, who introduced the proposals.
One would ensure employment contracts don’t block employees from speaking publicly about sexual-harassment allegations, while the other would secure an employee’s right to file a claim.
A third bill would create a group to develop model practices intended to make the workplace safer from sexual harassment.
“This is a difficult area of law and hopefully we have a good approach here,” Keiser said.
The bills are being considered as legislators examine their own policies and procedures surrounding sexual-harassment complaints in the Legislature.
The state House voted this year to create a task force that would review and make recommendations regarding cultural changes in the legislative community, including a code of conduct and more training on preventing sexual harassment.
The proposal has gone to the Senate for consideration.
“I started thinking, what can we as lawmakers do to address this problem?” Keiser said.
Senate Bill 5996 would prevent employers from making workers sign nondisclosure contracts that prohibit victims from speaking about sexual harassment as a condition of employment.
The bill also says an employer can’t retaliate against an employee who discloses sexual harassment or assault at his or her workplace.
Senate Bill 6313 targets employee contracts that limit an employee’s right to file a sexual-harassment complaint.
Senate Bill 6471 would develop model policies and best practices to make the workplace safer from sexual harassment.
That bill would direct the Human Rights Commission to establish a group represented by the business community, labor organizations and advocacy groups to come up with the practices that would be made available to employers and the public.
During a news conference Tuesday, Republican leaders said they take sexual harassment seriously but had not seen or discussed the bills sponsored by Keiser.
Keiser worked on the bills with Legal Voice, an advocacy group of lawyers that focuses on women’s rights and gender equality.
David Ward, senior attorney at Legal Voice, said the bill targeting nondisclosure agreements gives victims of sexual harassment the power to choose what information they want to share.
Legal Voice plans to testify in support of the legislation on Wednesday at the hearing before the Labor and Commerce Committee, which Keiser chairs.
“They are approaching this from many different angles because there are many different ways to fight,” Ward said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures couldn’t say how many states have legislation addressing sexual harassment because “policies can range from nondisclosure agreements to sexual-harassment training and are hard to track down.”
However, this year, legislation concerning nondisclosure agreements has been filed in Arizona, California, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia, the conference said.