Update, June 11: The legislation passed the House 199-0 on Tuesday. It will now go the Senate for consideration.
By a unanimous vote, the Pennsylvania House Labor & Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that prevents employers from forcing workers to sign non-disclosure agreements that stifle sexual harassment investigations.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York, came out of negotiations between state business groups and advocacy organizations like the Women’s Law Project and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
The bill applies to NDAs that prohibit or prevent employees and prospective employees “from opposing, disclosing, reporting or participating in an investigation of sexual harassment.”
The legislation would not impact agreements that prevent sharing of, for example, trade secrets. It also maintains an employer and employee’s ability to voluntarily enter into a sexual harassment settlement that includes a non-disclosure clause.
“That’s a big step in the right direction for employees,” Klunk told the Capital-Star.
The state Chamber of Business and Industry is neutral on the bill, a spokesperson said.
Klunk’s bill is one of the first of its kind to advance in the General Assembly since the #MeToo movement gained steam in fall 2017.
The House changed its ethics policy at the start of the session, in January, to strengthen reporting and investigations into alleged sexual misconduct by lawmakers.
Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware, has reintroduced a bill that would put investigations into independent hands for the whole General Assembly. The vocal #MeToo advocate also has the backing of a new crop of Democratic female Senators.
Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia, a co-sponsor of Klunk’s measure, said Tuesday’s vote advanced a reform that will help workers across the state, not just those in the Capitol.
“None of these things are going to be a failsafe and end sexual harassment or discrimination as it is immediately,” Cephas said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”
Cephas is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to create a sexual harassment hotline run by the state Human Relations Commission. The Labor & Industry Committee was scheduled to vote on the bill in March, but cancelled at the last minute to wait for additional input from outside groups.
A spokesperson for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, did not have a timetable for the bill to receive a full vote from the House