Photo Courtesy of the Leadership Conference
Sen. Gillibrand said the proposed law “brings us much closer” to the goal of ensuring “that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them without having to fear that it will ruin their careers.”
By Forum Staff
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently introduced new bipartisan legislation that would overhaul the current process that victims of harassment and discrimination in Congress must go through when reporting a claim.
The Congressional Harassment Reform Act, according to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would bring transparency and accountability to the current process by extending protections to interns and fellows, eliminating forced mediation, ending the current required secrecy in the process by allowing victims to speak publicly about their case, requiring members of Congress found personally liable for harassment to pay settlements out of their own pockets, and improving systems to address harassment and discrimination in Congress.
Specifically, the proposed law:
• Extends protections to interns and fellows.
• Requires everyone working on Capitol Hill, including members, to take the Office of Compliance training.
• Changes the name of the Office of Compliance to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
• Puts victims in the driver’s seat by allowing them to choose how to resolve their complaint (e.g. counseling and mediation are both no longer mandatory) and protecting their option to discuss their claim publicly.
• Establishes a confidential advisor to consult, on a confidential basis, with any employee who has alleged harassment or discrimination; and assist any employee who has an allegation under Title IV in understanding the procedures, and the significance of the procedures.
• Gives OOC’s general counsel the authority to conduct interviews and gather evidence regarding complaints of covered harassment and discrimination filed under this section, including interviews with former employees.
• Allows individuals to work remotely without penalty throughout proceedings.
• Improves tracking of complaints and procedures by implementing an online platform.
• Requires that if a member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, they will be responsible for the cost of any settlement.
• Requires that if a member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, any settlement must be approved by the Senate or House Ethics Committee.
• Requires that all settlements will be publicly disclosed unless the victims choose to keep them private.
• Requires offices to post notices with information about employees’ rights and how to contact the Office of Compliance.
• Provides for a climate survey to identify the pervasiveness of the problem and what gaps continue to exist in its resolution.
“We should treat every person who works here with respect and dignity, and that means creating a climate where there is accountability, fairness, respect, and access to justice if sexual harassment takes place,” Gillibrand added. “There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises, all of which can throw off the entire trajectory in their careers. We must ensure that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. This bipartisan legislation would bring us much closer to that goal.”