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Harassment in the workplace has been the subject of countless news articles and segments in recent years, as professionals from diverse industries continue coming forward to report their experiences. Thirty-five percent of American women, and nine percent of men, have been sexually harassed or abused in the workplace, according to a 2017 poll by PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist.

Professional women are also more likely than men to deal with discrimination, or microaggressions, on a daily basis, according to McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2018 report. Sixty-four percent of women reported that they face microaggressions in the office.

Women and men both agree that companies need to do more to create a safer, more inclusive work environment. As of now, 40 percent say disrespectful behavior toward women is quickly addressed, while 32 percent state that their company acts swiftly in response to sexual harassment claims. The need to eradicate this harassment and abuse in all sectors including the workplace is imperative, as the damage it causes to a person’s life and career is irreversible and has lifelong effects.

To address this issue, Congress recently introduced the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace Act, otherwise called the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act (BE HEARD Act), in an attempt to end workplace discrimination across all industries and in businesses of all sizes by improving current workplace harassment laws.

The legislation promises to strengthen discrimination protections for LGBTQ workers; prohibit mandatory forced arbitration and non-disclosure agreements that prevent employees from speaking about their experiences of harassment; eliminate tipped minimum wage; and make it easier for employees to report instances of workplace harassment and receive compensation from their employers.

The BE HEARD Act distinguishes itself among other bills that have addressed workplace harassment—which have focused on sexual harassment on college campuses, the military, government and other areas—because it will encompass all industries that deal with this global issue.

Some of the legislation’s key provisions include:

  • Extending civil rights protections, such as the prohibition against employee discrimination, to all employees regardless of business size and to those who are not considered “employees” (e.g., interns, volunteers, trainees, etc.)
  • Offering guidelines for judges and employers to help identify which conduct does and does not constitute unlawful harassment
  • Prohibiting employers from making employees sign blanket non-disclosure agreements upon job acceptance
  • Restoring protections for employees harassed by supervisors and making it easier to hold supervisors liable for harassment, even though the supervisor does not have authority to fire, demote, promote or transfer
  • Assisting employers in creating workspaces that are free of harassment through research and data collection, model policies and trainings, best practices per industry and workplace climate surveys

The BE HEARD in the Workplace Act is taking steps in not only identifying, reporting and responding to workplace harassment, but also in preventing its future occurrence. Everyone deserves to work in an inclusive environment free from discrimination no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or position.

Desirée Patno is the CEO and president of Women in the Housing and Real Estate Ecosystem (NAWRB) and Desirée Patno Enterprises, Inc. (DPE), as well as chairwoman of NAWRB’s Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council (NDILC). With 30 years of experience in housing, Patno is a champion for women’s economic growth and independence. In 2017, Entrepreneur.com named her the Highest-Ranking Woman and 4th Overall Top Real Estate Influencer to Follow. For more information, please visit www.nawrb.com.

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