Speed Reads

Sexual Harassment

Congress is working on legislation to reverse the GOP's recent dismantling of sexual harassment protections

Last spring, congressional Republicans passed and President Trump signed a law repealing former President Barack Obama's Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, finalized in August 2016, as part of their liberal use of the Congressional Review Act to nullify 14 Obama-era regulations. The rule required federal contractors to disclose sexual harassment and other labor violations before receiving significant federal contracts, Politico reports, and also forbade large contractors from forcing employees to take labor complaints to arbitration, typically secret proceedings where the worker is more likely to lose than in court.

Mandatory arbitration plays a big part in sexual misconduct cases, and former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson has made abolishing such clauses — ubiquitous in her former employer's sexual harassment settlements — a central plank in her campaign against sexual harassment. A few months after Trump signed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces repeal, The New York Times published its exposé on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, starting the #MeToo moment that has forced out prominent men in media, the arts, and Congress.

"I can tell you without a doubt," Ben Olinsky, an Obama labor policy aide who helped write the jettisoned rule, tells Politico. "This provision would have brought significant new accountability to federal contractors with sexual harassment and assault." Now, Congress is working on bipartisan legislation, Senate bill 2203, that would ban forced arbitration not just among federal contractors but all businesses. Its main sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), voted to repeal the Obama rule.

Republicans say they did not repeal the Obama rule because of sexual harassment, which they point out is already illegal. But labor experts say contractors are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, and the problem has grown as the number of federal contractors has mushroomed, costing more than $400 billion a year now from $182 billion in 1993. You can read more about the proposed and scrapped regulations at Politico.