Gov. Wolf, Legislative Democrats Announce Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Protections for Workers

April 05, 2018

Philadelphia, PA – Governor Tom Wolf joined House and Senate Democrats today to announce a package of reforms to strengthen protections against sexual harassment and discrimination for employees, provide new legal options for victims and hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions.

These steps build on Governor Wolf’s efforts to combat sexual harassment and assault, including the nation’s first state-based ‘It’s On Us’ campaign to combat sexual assault on campuses, which includes grants to higher education institutions and a bipartisan legislative package.

“No one should ever be the victim of workplace discrimination or sexual harassment – and we cannot, and will not, accept this behavior as normal or acceptable,” said Governor Wolf.  “So many victims have come forward and their bravery should continue to change our country, our workplaces, and our culture for the better.  These reforms will build on that change to support our employees and create safe workplaces across the commonwealth.”

The sexual harassment and discrimination protections proposals include:

  • Ban mandatory non-disclosure agreement: Forcing victims to sign non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault and harassment helps serial predators to continue their patterns of abuse. Governor Wolf supports a revised version of Senator Schwank’s legislation that would prohibit mandatory non-disclosure agreements unless the victim voluntarily agrees to include one.
  • Protect more workers: All employees should be protected, regardless of the size of the employer or the type of their job. Today, these protections are only given to those who work for an employer with at least four employees. Governor Wolf supports reducing the threshold to one employee and extending protections to independent contractors, interns and full-time nannies, housekeepers and other domestic workers. Legislation proposed by Sens. Farnese, Fontana, Tartaglione and Williams and Reps. Rabb and Madden.
  • Workplace training: No employee should experience harassment or discrimination This legislation requires trainings for employees and supervisors to prevent discrimination and harassment for all employees and employers must display discrimination and harassment protection rights in the workplace. Legislation proposed by Sen. Fontana and Reps. Rabb and D. Costa.
  • “PA Fairness Act”: Governor Wolf is renewing his call for the General Assembly to pass the PA Fairness Act to prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Legislation proposed by Sens. Browne and Farnese and Rep. Frankel.

Legal System Reforms:  

  • Extend statute of limitations: Some victims and whistleblowers can be afraid to come forward. To encourage reporting, the amount of time victims have to file a discrimination or whistleblower complaint should be extended from only 180 days to two years. Legislation proposed by Sens. Farnese and Haywood and Reps. Davidson and O’Brien.
  • Right to a Jury Trial: Victims and whistleblowers should have the option for a jury to hear their case in state court. Legislation proposed by Sens. Farnese and Haywood and Rep. Davidson and O’Brien.
  • Punitive Damages: Pennsylvania, through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the Whistleblower Law, should join other states, like New Jersey and Ohio, that allow victims and whistleblowers to seek punitive damages in workplace discrimination cases. Legislation proposed by Sens. Farnese and Haywood and Reps. Davidson and O’Brien.
  • Payment of Attorney Fees: Burdensome legal fees can discourage some victims from pursuing their case. Sexual harassment victims who win their case in state court should have the attorney fees paid by the defendant. Legislation proposed by Sen. Farnese and Rep. Davidson.

State Government Reforms:

  • Sexual Harassment Prevention Task Force: Governor Wolf and House and Senate Democrats are calling for the creation of a task force to bring together victims’ rights organizations, government officials and others to make recommendations to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplaces. Legislation proposed by Sen. Blake and Rep. Pashinski.
  • Invest in Investigations: Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission is underfunded and understaff. Governor Wolf’s 2018-19 budget proposal is a first step to strengthen the Human Relations Commission with an additional $1.3 million to investigate discrimination and harassment cases. These additional resources would allow the Commission to hire an additional six employees to help process complaints.
  • Standards for Lobbyists: The state Capitol must be free of sexual harassment and discrimination for employees and the public. Governor Wolf is calling for legislation that requires lobbyists to go through training for ethics and discrimination and holds them accountable for violating discrimination protections. Legislation proposed by Sen. Brewster and Rep. Snyder.

“As a caucus, we’ve worked with stakeholders and advocates and our own employees to craft a package of legislation that we believe can curb sexual harassment and do more to protect its victims,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa. “Each of our bills in this package is aimed at expanding protections to individuals regardless of the size or type of their employment, because time is up on workplace harassment.”

Senator Christine Tartaglione, Democratic chair of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, added, “The focus of my legislation – my part of the package – is to make sure that victims of sexual harassment in the workplace feel empowered to report these incidents and that the law is fully inclusive of the many different people who suffer sexual harassment. I want workers to understand the protections available to them. I want the reporting process to be easier. I want to protect victims from retaliation by their employer when they DO report it.”

As part of the effort to reduce sexual harassment and support victims, the Wolf administration today launched a webpage about reporting workplace sexual harassment and providing information from victim’s rights groups.

“Going to work each day should NOT be a constant battle against harassment, fear, intimidation, or discrimination,” said House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody. “This package of bills is about giving employers the tools they need to remove discrimination and harassment from the workplace and victims the tools they need to fight back when they do encounter it.”

“Hearing the stories of #MeToo across the country has been heart breaking, and we have to make sure something good comes from all of this pain,” said Senator Larry Farnese, Senate Democratic Caucus Secretary. “That’s what today and this package of bills is about – capturing this movement to ensure that the workplace becomes equitable and hospitable for everyone.”

Governor Wolf has also directed his administration to evaluate sexual harassment policies and training for commonwealth employees to identify possible improvements.

“We’re here to say enough is enough,” said Representative Margo Davidson. “Workplace safety is not only ensuring the structural or operational aspect of your work environment is safe but includes creating a culture where every employee feels safe and comfortable going to work. We stand together to say that the culture, of discrimination that includes sexual harassment in our working environments will not be brushed aside, swept under the rug or tolerated on any level, any longer.”

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