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States Close 2020 With Powerful Gender Justice Policy Wins

Written by Monika Dymerski

By Monika Dymerski, Policy Fellow

This year, state legislatures faced unprecedented challenges in passing progressive legislation. Across the U.S., elected officials had to turn away from equity issues to address an emerging global pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. However, in addition to responding to the COVID-19 crisis, there were several major policy wins related to strengthening protections against sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, as well as advancing equal pay.

ERA tracked over 100 pieces of legislation introduced this year relating to anti-harassment and fair pay efforts in our Digital Hub Library. 12 of these bills passed their respective legislatures and were signed into law. These achievements reflect the relevance of these issues, especially during a public health emergency and economic crisis where existing inequalities and barriers to economic security are further magnified.

Pay Equity Wins

  • Maryland passed HB 123, which bans employers from asking about a job applicant’s prior salary, or relying on their salary history to determine their new salary, unless the information is voluntarily provided by the applicant. It also requires employers to provide a job applicant the salary range for a position upon request. Read more about the importance of banning inquiry and reliance on prior salary in ERA’s blog post.
  • Virginia enacted HB 624, which directs the Division of Human Rights of the Department of Law to develop recommendations that address discrimination in compensation based on sex and race.
  • California passed SB 973, which will increase pay transparency by requiring employers with 100 employees or more to submit a pay data report annually to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), outlining the compensation and hours worked of its employees by gender, race, ethnicity and job category. SB 973 will also give the DFEH the authority to enforce the California Fair Pay Act, in coordination with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement.

California also passed SB 1383, which expands protections under the state family leave law to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees who work for an employer with 5 or more employees. Employees can take this leave to bond with a new child or to care for themselves or a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner with a serious illness.

More State Gender and LGBTQ+ Justice Policy Wins

We tracked a total of 10 additional bills across 9 states, which address harassment and discrimination in the workplace. The following were signed into law:

  • Hawaii’s SB 2054 HD1 SD1 protects workers by prohibiting employers from requiring employees, as a condition of employment, to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) pertaining to sexual harassment or assault in the workplace or at work-related events. This is important because NDAs are often used to silence victims of sexual harassment or assault, forbidding them from speaking openly about what happened to them. The law also prohibits employer retaliation against employees for reporting or discussing sexual harassment or assault.
  • In February, New Mexico enacted HB 21, which prohibits private employers from requiring employees to sign NDAs in settlement agreements related to sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, unless it is requested by the employee. The law also prohibits employers from preventing employees from disclosing instances of work-related sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation to coworkers).
  • Louisiana enacted SB 439 in June. This law ensures that a nonprofit organization or employee cannot be held liable for the good faith disclosure of information about a former employee, volunteer, or independent contractor who engaged in sexual harassment, assault, abuse, trafficking, or misconduct.

Several bills were passed to protect more workers. This includes:

  • HB 1216, which South Dakota passed to amend its human rights chapter to provide interns with equal protections against workplace discrimination as permanent, full-time employees.
  • Virginia’s SB 868  represents monumental anti-discrimination legislation that makes Virginia the first state in the South to enact comprehensive protections for the LGBTQ community.  The bill, known as the Virginia Values Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity in public accommodations, credit and housing.
  • New Jersey enacted A 5630 to require the Civil Service Commission to maintain a hotline for state employees to submit reports of workplace discrimination and harassment, increasing avenues for worker justice and confidentiality.

States also passed laws promoting workplace sexual harassment prevention efforts.

  • Virginia enacted HB 1228, which will require contracting agencies to provide annual trainings to supervisors and employees on sexual harassment policies if they employ more than five employees and that enter into government contracts of over $10,000.
  • HB 2681 in Washington promotes prevention efforts by requiring employers of long-term care workers to adopt policies to address workplace abuse and discrimination; disclose to its employees when the employer knows about abusive conduct; keep records of reported incidents; and  submit annual reports to the state Department of Social and Health Services. This is important because long-term care workers experience particularly high rates of workplace abuse and discrimination.

ERA will continue to track legislative trends and updates on our Digital Hub Library. To learn more about our policy work or to get involved in our advocacy efforts, sign up for our Action Team email list. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram for latest updates.