House OK's Bill to Help Workplace Harassment Survivors Come Forward

Mary Gay Scanlon
Mary Gay Scanlon

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved the Speak Out Act, which will allow survivors of sexual assault or harassment on the job to go public even if they’ve signed nondisclosure agreements. The Senate had already passed the bill by unanimous consent, and President Joe Biden is expected to sign it.

It was sponsored in the House by Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania, and it passed the House Wednesday with a bipartisan vote of 315-109. “It will now make it easier for victims to seek justice and deter bad behavior,” Scanlon told fellow House members before the vote.

“NDAs are meant to protect trade secrets and business dealings,” she added. “Why would anyone try to enable their use in covering up sexual assault?”

She also noted that even though the Senate OK’d the bill unanimously (on September 29), far-right Republicans in the House have set up obstacles, forcing hours of debate and four votes to pass it.

But now it has been approved. It prohibits NDAs “from being enforced in instances in which sexual harassment or sexual assault has been alleged in violation of federal, tribal, or state law and in situations in which survivors wish to break their silence,” according to a press release from another supporter, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine.

Predispute NDAs between employers and current, former, and prospective employees as well as independent contractors could not be applied in cases of sexual assault or harassment, nor could those signed between providers of goods and services and consumers. NDAs would also be invalidated in cases of sexual assault or harassment that have not yet been filed.

The bill follows one signed into law by Biden in February, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act, which made mandatory arbitration agreements unenforceable in these cases.

The White House put out a statement Tuesday expressing support for the NDA act. “Workers should not be silenced in the face of workplace sexual harassment and assault, or face retaliation for coming forward to report such abuse,” it reads in part. “Transparency is the best way to hold employers and perpetrators accountable. Prohibiting the use of predispute NDAs and nondisparagement clauses will increase access to justice and make the workplace safer for everyone.”