Bi –partisan legislation has been introduced that would overhaul the process sexual harassment victims have to go through when reporting a claim against a member of Congress. Senator Cory Gardner was part of the group of Senators who introduced the bill, which would also prevent tax payer funds from being used to settle claims, and would allow public disclosure whenever sexual harassment claims are filed against a congressional member. The current process for victims of harassment in Congress lacks transparency and is difficult to navigate. This legislation, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, would extend protections to interns and fellows, eliminate forced mediation, would allow victims to speak publicly about their case, and would also require members of Congress to pay settlements out of their own pockets. Gardner says that sexual harassment and workplace misconduct have no place in America, and certainly has no place in the United States Congress. According to Gardner, this legislation ensures we have an open, transparent process that does not leave the taxpayers on the hook for Members of Congress’ misconduct. Additional information on the legislation is available below.
Specifically, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act would do the following:
- 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 (OOC) 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.
- 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.
- If a Member of Congress is found to be personally liable for harassment or discrimination, any settlement must be approved by the appropriate Senate or House committee.
- Requires settlements to be publicly disclosed unless the victims choose to keep them private or the Member of Congress is found to have not committed the harassment or discrimination.
- 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.