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2020 Session Roundup: State Bills Driving Gender Justice

Written by Shannon Williams

Faced with unprecedented crisis, now is the time to fight for big, structural change and find innovative ways to bring economic justice to every family. While the current disruption caused by the coronavirus is causing whole industries to contract, and everyday working people are using whatever savings they have as income (thus eliminating any safety net they once had) this new reality has forced the rest of the country to catch up – and to catch up quickly.

We need a systemic corrective for women of color, particularly, and our overall communities as a whole.

Fortunately, organizations across the country are banding together through the Stop Harassment State Network, a network co-led by Equal Rights Advocates, National Women’s Law Center, and Girls for Gender Equity, to continue to push through, advocate for, and advance legislation that would provide harassment protections for women in the workplace and in education. These efforts combine with those across the country by members of the Equal Pay Today campaign, to close the gender wage gap harming women of color and low paid women workers most.

Currently, over 50 bills have been introduced in 2020 that would ensure that women are being paid fairly and not experiencing harassment in education or in the workplace. These are bills that, once passed, would provide the necessary protections and safeguards our country desperately needs right now.

  • California HR 1309: A workplace violence prevention for health care and social service workers bill that would prevent workplace violence within the health care and social service industries
  • Mississippi SB 2522: Would require employees of the opposite sex in the same work establishment to receive equal pay for equal work.

And the 2020 activity does not stop there.  Joining these states to improve the lives of women, women of color, and low paid women workers, are states introducing bills that would stop forced arbitration.

  • Connecticut HB 5381: Would allow employees to sue employers on behalf of the state after having waived their personal rights to sue by signing forced arbitration agreements
  • Illinois SB 1829: Would prohibit the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements and forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment or discrimination

We are also seeing a trend in bills across the country that would require employers to stop relying on prior salary to set wages.

  • Maryland HB 123: Prohibits an employer from relying on a prospective employee’s prior salary history and requires an employer to provide a wage range for the position, upon request
  • Massachusetts SB 217: Would prohibit an employer from relying on a prospective employee’s prior salary history and would require an employer to provide a wage range for the position upon request of the prospective employee.

There are some states that are focused on passing harassment legislation that can be beneficial to legislative employees.

  • Kentucky HB 168: Would prohibit legislators or legislative employees from discriminating or sexually harassing other legislators or legislative employees

And we’re seeing states that are working to pass bills that will prevent retaliation and eliminate the use of non-disclosure agreements, respectively.

  • Pennsylvania SB 38: Would make it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against any employee or prospective employee for discussing wage information
  • Maine LD 1529: Would make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to enter into a contract or agreement with an employee that contains a non-disclosure agreement

These bills are just a window into the remarkable advocacy efforts happening this year around improving the economic security of women, efforts that cannot be ignored, and efforts that will continue to be advanced and promoted by the Network and the organizations that comprise it.  As more and more stories surface outlining the economic obstacles that women, families, and communities are facing, and our nation continues to brace for a sudden economic slowdown, we need to ensure that our country stops playing catch up during difficult times and starts thinking ahead to institute the policies that will offer solid economic stability.