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State Legislatures Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

By Lauren Doroghazi | February 7, 2018

Sexual harassment allegations have dominated headlines over the past several months, and politicians have not been exempt from scrutiny as women have come forward and voiced their stories of harassment at state capitols. As states convened their legislative sessions in 2018, legislators across the country returned to face a number of sexual harassment allegations. We won't detail the allegations in this post (you can find a list of them here), but officials in a majority of states are facing allegations of some kind. As a result, state lawmakers have introduced a variety of proposals to address the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace in both public and private employment. Thus far, lawmakers have introduced over 80 pieces of legislation in 21 states and Congress related to sexual harassment this year.

Legislation Addressing Private Employers
This year's proposed legislation aimed at addressing sexual harassment in the private sector includes:

  • Banning the use of mandatory arbitration provisions in contracts relating to allegations of sexual harassment (NY SB 6972);
  • Banning the use of nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements that involve sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination (IN HB 1237);
  • Mandating that private sector employers provide employees with sexual harassment education and training programs (VA HB 653);
  • Creating a cause of action for sexual harassment in state court (MS HB 1441);
  • Requiring the state attorney general to establish and maintain a sexual harassment in the workplace hotline and website so state residents may report instances of sexual harassment in the workplace (IL HB 4149); and
  • Allowing a person providing contracted services to bring a sexual harassment action against the entity for which the person is under contract (TN HB 1984).

Legislation Addressing the State Legislative Branch and Public Employers
Many of the bills introduced this year addressing the public sector are similar to the private sector legislation detailed above. This year, legislators have proposed:

  • Imposing criminal and civil liability on a member of the legislature or legislative employee who interferes with or retaliates against a legislative employee’s right to allege that a member of the legislature or a legislative employee has engaged in, or will engage in, activity that may constitute a violation of law, including sexual harassment (CA AB 403);
  • Establishing the violation of “ethical misconduct” and creating a tip line for legislative branch employees to report complaints of misconduct or sexual harassment (KY HB 9);
  • Prohibiting legislators from using public funds to pay financial settlements in sexual harassment cases (MI HB 5405);
  • Creating a task force to prevent sexual harassment (FL HB 1233);
  • Mandating sexual harassment training for members of the legislature, legislative branch employees, and department heads (GA HB 622); and
  • Requiring lobbyists to receive sexual harassment training (NM HB 313).

Of the legislation listed above, California recently enacted legislation imposing a criminal and civil liability on a member of the legislature. Additionally, two other bills in California and one in Virginia have passed their chamber of origin thus far. In addition to the legislation above, an Associated Press report from early January found that legislative chambers in at least three-quarters of the states had updated their internal sexual harassment policies over the past three months.

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