This bill would reform the process used to handle claims of sexual harassment or other workplace discrimination in Congress. It’d eliminate the mandatory counseling and mediation periods of the current process, require lawmakers to personally repay settlements stemming from their actions, and ensure employees are educated about their workplace rights.
Several elements of the current sexual harassment and workplace discrimination claim process would be eliminated, including the mandatory 30-day “counseling” period, the mandatory 30-day mediation phase, and the 30-day “cooling off” period.
The new process would allow a victim to immediately pursue as the initial stage mediation, either with an administrative hearing through the Office of Compliance (OOC, renamed from the OCWR) or a civil action in federal district court. The employee would still have the option to engage in mediation, but wouldn’t be required to. Employees would also be able to consult with a confidential advisor (an attorney with relevant experience in workplace law) for assistance in navigating the claims process and their options.
Employees would have immediate access to a dedicated advocate who will provide consultation and assistance throughout proceedings through the OOC. They would also be permitted to request remote work and paid leave without fear of retribution. Notification of employee rights would be required to be posted by all legislative branch employing offices. OOC would be required to establish an electronic system for taking in claims by victims, tracking those claims throughout the process, and generating reports on various details of claims.
Additional support for state, district, and regional legislative branch staff would be provided to ensure they have the same access to OOC resources, training opportunities, guidance, and advice as Washington D.C. based legislative branch workers. Protections would be extended to unpaid staff including interns, detailees, and fellows as well as staff working on legislative branch commissions.
Members of the House and Senate would be held personally accountable for repaying awards and settlements stemming from acts of harassment they personally commit. Members who leave office would still be responsible for repayment, including through the garnishment of non-government wages and retirement annuities to ensure full repayment.
Public reports of OOC awards and settlements that include identification of whether a member of Congress has properly reimbursed the U.S. Treasury would be required. Awards and settlements would be automatically referred to the Ethics Committee when there is a claim against a member or senior staff. The Ethics Committee would have to review and approve settlements of harassment claims against a member within 90 days.
Additionally, an annual survey of staff each Congress would be required to examine the workplace culture on Capitol Hill.