Executive Summary: A proposed new law called “Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act” takes aim at sexual assault and harassment in the airline industry. The bill is sponsored by Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio and seeks to require air carriers to implement the following steps to protect employees and passengers:

  • Adopt a policy, with reporting mechanisms, regarding the prohibition of sexual assault and harassment;
  • Train personnel on the policy and reporting procedures;
  • Post the policy online for employees and passengers to access; and
  • Report data regarding sexual assault and harassment to the Secretary of Transportation.

Details of the Act

The stated purpose of this Act is to "protect transportation personnel and passengers from sexual assault and harassment." The Act requires covered entities, including commercial air carriers, railroads, ships, and certain bus lines, to create policies and procedures to eliminate sexual harassment in transportation and to inform passengers of these policies.

The policies and procedures must (i) state that sexual harassment is not acceptable under any circumstance; (ii) provide procedures for reporting sexual harassment (including public outreach activities, confidential phone and internet reporting opportunities, and trained personnel to receive reports); (iii) provide procedures for personnel to follow upon receipt of a complaint; and (iv) include training for personnel who may receive reports of harassment. This policy must be created "in consultation with labor unions."

The Act would also require covered entities to post a notice on their webpage and elsewhere through the use of "appropriate signage" (i) advising passengers that they have adopted a formal policy with respect to sexual harassment and (ii) informing passengers of the procedures for reporting sexual harassment.

Additionally, the Act would amend the prohibition against interfering with a cabin or flight crew, under 49 U.S.C. §46318, to explicitly include sexual assault and harassment and to raise the civil penalty from $25,000 to $35,000.

Finally, the Act calls for the Secretary of Transportation to establish a program that collects and maintains data regarding the number of incidents committed against passengers, committed against personnel, and reported to law enforcement.

The bill was co-sponsored by all Democratic members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The bill is supported by the Transportation Trades Department, the Association of Flight Attendants, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, and the Amalgamated Transit Union. The bill is currently before committee.

Employers' Bottom Line: If the bill passes, air carriers should be prepared to amend their existing sexual harassment policies to cover passengers; review job descriptions to identify what positions could assume responsibility for these new requirements, including reporting, training, investigating; and explore how a statement for passengers could be published on their website.