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Proposed bill targets harassment in the workplace

A California senator is co-sponsoring a bill designed to protect women at work by targeting the imbalance of power between employees and employers. The bill has been called the EMPOWER Act, short for the Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace harassment through Education and Reporting Act. California Sen. Kamala Harris said perpetrators of sexual harassment have created a culture of silence and fear that must end.

The Act makes use of different means to target harassment. It gives victims more power, for example, by removing the use of nondisclosure agreements to keep accusers silent. Use of NDAs in harassment settlements came under scrutiny following allegations of harassment by celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Bill O'Reilly. The bill also includes measures to punish companies that have allowed systemic harassment to develop. It establishes a confidential service for employees to report violative behavior to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If the bill passes, companies will not be allowed to take tax deductions for expenses tied to harassment cases, and they'll have to report the amounts of sexual harassment settlements to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The EMPOWER Act would also require that companies develop training programs to help employees understand their rights, what does and does not constitute sexual harassment in the workplace and how sexual harassment can be reported.

In a case where an employee feels he or she has been a victim of harassment in the workplace, a lawyer may be able to help. An attorney with experience in employment law could assist by examining the facts of the case and advising the client in regard to potential causes of action. Legal counsel might gather evidence in preparation for trial or attempt to negotiate a settlement with the at-fault party.

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