The House of Representatives will vote this week on a pair of measures that could overhaul the way sexual harassment complaints are handled in Congress.
As a broad swath of sectors reckoned with the fact that men in positions of power had, at times, used that power to sexually harass and assault women, the Congress dealt with a reckoning of its own. A number of lawmakers have announced early retirements or left Congress as reports of harassment and misconduct came to light. And a bipartisan group of lawmakers worked to fix the process through which Congressional workplace complaints are reported and handled.
At issue is a 1995 law that determines how reports of harassment, discrimination, and other workplace issues are processed. That process had been described as onerous by lawmakers and advocates. This week, the House will take a step toward addressing those issues via a House resolution and formal legislation.
Under the resolution, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies will be mandatory in all House offices and an office that provides employees with legal assistance and aide when they are navigating the complaint process will be established. The resolution also requires employing offices to certify that none of their payroll funds are being used to settle complaints. If the resolution passes the House, it will go into effect immediately.
The bill that is up for consideration, the Congressional Accountability Act Reform Act, goes a bit further. It would cut-down the complaint filing process by eliminating mandatory counseling and mediation periods, require members to pay back settlements within 90 days, and force the compliance office to publish detailed information on settlements and awards every six months. The legislation would also give employees access to advocates who can help them navigate the complaint process.