As most women already knew and many men are learning these days: Sexual harassment and even assault are rampant in the workplace. Anyone who has been a victim of sexual violence knows it can be really hard to come forward, either for fear of retribution, that nobody will believe them, or just that it’s too painful and scary to talk about it. When sexual misconduct and violence happens at work or between people who work together, there is also sometimes a workplace rule in place that discourages victims from coming forward.
Now, in the wake of so much devastating and infuriating news about powerful men harming the women they work with, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to get rid of this rule altogether.
The rule in question is called forced arbitration. If you have a job in the US, chances are pretty good that your employment agreement involves forced arbitration—according to USA Today, 56 percent of workers in the US are subject to forced arbitration. And what exactly is forced arbitration? Basically, it means that, as a condition of being employed, employees have to forego their right to sue if a dispute arises. Instead, the dispute must be settled through “arbitration,” which is a non-judicial means of resolving an issue.
Forced arbitration may have appeared on your radar under the Obama administration when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau banned the practice in employment contracts. But alas, the Trump administration has already lifted the ban. On November 1, president Trump signed a joint resolution that Congress passed, ending the ban on forced arbitration in employment agreements. And though Congress just acted to get rid of the ban, a group of bipartisan legislators is working to get rid of forced arbitration again.
Many groups are opposed to forced arbitration because of the way it strips legal rights from employees and protects those who cause harm at work. The Fair Arbitration Now Coalition, a group of organizations who support banning forced arbitration, is comprised of nearly 80 organizations who support an end to forced arbitration, says that more than 30 million employees have given up their right to take workplace issues to court under forced arbitration rules.
Given how many accusations continue to roll out against men in positions of power in their companies, a law that protects victims in the workplace is definitely needed. According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), forced arbitration only serves to protect the perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence.
“Frequently designed, chosen, and paid for by the employer or corporation, in arbitration everything is conducted in secret,” NWLC’s vice president for Workplace Justice Emily Martin writes. “People who suffered the same abuses often can’t join together to show how rampant a problem is and confront a powerful adversary — and people are less likely to come forward at all, because they have no idea they aren’t alone.”
Six senators are on board so far. The bill is sponsored by three Democratic legislators: Illinois representative Cheri Bustos, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and California senator Kamala Harris. There are also three Republicans co-sponsoring the bill: North Carolina Representative Walter Jones, New York representative Elise Stefanik, and South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson (pictured above), who sued her former boss, now deceased former Fox CEO Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment last year, has also come out in support of the bill.
There are already so many barriers that prevent women from coming forward when someone harms them, all of which also shields people who commit sexual harass or assault, making it easier for them to continue hurting others. With an end to forced arbitration for employees, victims will be free to take the matter to court, if that’s how they want to deal with their abuser. Though it may still be challenging for some victims to come forward, and some may still not want to at all, ending forced arbitration rules gives everyone more options if someone at work hurts them.
What do you think? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.
(Images via Astrid Stawiarz + iStock/Getty Images)