SACRAMENTO–California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) said Thursday she will introduce a package of bills to empower victims of workplace sexual harassment.
The legislation will make it easier for victims to fight sexual harassment in the workplace. It will also provide more protections for employees – particularly those in low-wage service jobs – who worry about facing retaliation for reporting abuse.
One of the bills will prohibit California employers from forcing workers to sign agreements that require an employee to pursue a sexual-harassment claim through arbitration, where a victim’s odds of getting justice are greatly reduced.
“Signing away your rights to sue for sexual harassment as a condition of getting a job is simply immoral and has chilled reform in the workplace,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said. “No one should be forced into arbitration to obtain a job.”
Forced arbitration agreements have become a common tool of employers who seek to prevent employees from filing a lawsuit or – in instances of sexual harassment – Fair Employment and Housing Act complaints that are filed with the state. Instead, employees who sign these agreements are forced to go through the arbitration process with any sexual-harassment complaint. A 2015 report by the California Labor Federation described this process as “a rigged system…in which an employer pays for its own arbitrators who then hear disputes in private. As you might imagine, this process rarely results in justice for an exploited worker.” Workers often don’t even realize what they’re signing when they enter into these contracts as a condition of employment.
In forced arbitration, any settlements often require the victim to refrain from discussing the case publicly. In a workplace with a culture of sexual harassment, these arbitration agreements are particularly toxic, enabling the abusive behavior to continue unchecked.
The legislation will also include an omnibus bill designed to protect all workers from retaliation, particularly those in low-wage service jobs, where sexual harassment is a constant problem. This bill will make reporting easier, penalize employers who don’t take action against harassers, and strengthen anti-retaliation provisions for all workers. Among other things, the bill will create a hotline so a worker can report harassment to the state Labor Commissioner’s Office.
“These bills will give extra protection to all potential victims, especially the most vulnerable employees, the ones struggling to make ends meet in low-wage service jobs,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said. “Far too often, these workers are too afraid and too powerless to report what’s happened to them. They shouldn’t be forced to choose between keeping a roof over their head and enduring an abusive work environment.”