Two key sexual harassment bills head to the Governor’s desk

Two bills have been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.

The #MeToo movement has sparked greater public awareness of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace and, in Sacramento, it has inspired a broad range of legislative proposals. As Newsweek reports, two of those proposals were recently passed by state lawmakers and now await Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. If the bills are signed into law, they will place important restrictions against trying to cover up sexual harassment claims through the use of non-disclosure and arbitration agreements. The bills' supporters say the changes will help prevent a culture of silence developing around sexual harassers and abusers.

Bill tackles mandatory non-disclosure agreements

Both bills are similar in that they both try to tackle the abuse of non-disclosure agreements and other contracts by accused sexual abusers and harassers. The first bill would require that the signing of a non-disclosure or mandatory arbitration agreement cannot be made a condition for employment. Companies would still be allowed to use an arbitrator or mediator to settle claims, but they would be prohibited from forcing potential employees to sign mandatory arbitration or non-disclosure agreements as term of employment.

The bill has garnered plenty of high-profile support in the #MeToo movement, particularly from Gretchen Carlson. The former Fox News host alleged that she was fired from Fox News after rejecting the sexual advances of then-CEO Roger Ailes. She and others have claimed that one-side arbitration agreements, which often require alleged victims to not speak publicly about the alleged incidents, help create a climate where abusers are allowed to "buy" their victims' silence.

Second bill focuses victim's silence

That silence was what the other bill that headed to the governor's desk is targeting. It would ban private agreements, such as non-disclosure agreements, that demand silence from alleged victims in matters relating to sexual harassment or abuse. The bill would still allow victims themselves to request non-disclosure agreements should they choose to do so.

Combined, both bills aim to break the wall of silence that arbitration agreements and non-disclosure clauses allow to build around sexual predators. However, the bills, along with others being considered by lawmakers that will target sexual harassment, have been criticized by some powerful business lobbies. As Capital Public Radio reports, the California Chamber of Commerce has labelled many of the #MeToo-inspired bills as "job killers," claiming that, if passed, they will lead to an increase in lawsuits against employers.

Sexual harassment claims

As recent media stories have shown, sexual harassment is all too common in the workplace. Those who have been victims of alleged sexual harassment while at work should talk to an employment law attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can provide clients with guidance through the often complicated legal process and help them fight for their rights.