The new law holds Members of Congress accountable, protects victims, and increases transparency
WASHINGTON – In the 116th Congress, which began last week, all members of the Senate and House of Representatives will be held accountable under new sexual harassment reforms enacted in the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act. The new law, which was sponsored by U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), the Ranking Member and Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, reforms the process to pursue claims of sexual harassment or other workplace discrimination experienced on Capitol Hill by updating the dispute resolution process, protecting workers, increasing transparency and holding Members of Congress accountable. It was signed into law on December 21, 2018 and the annual reporting period began January 1, 2019.
“We are finally setting an example for the nation that workplace discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. This new law reforms the broken and outdated process of reporting and handling sexual harassment claims. Victims of harassment will have greater empowerment over how their claims are handled and confidence that we are here to support them, not protect politicians,” Klobuchar said. “All men and women deserve a workplace free from harassment and that includes those who work in Congress.”
“In the new Congress, victims of harassment and discrimination finally have a process that protects their rights and holds perpetrators accountable,” Blunt said. “The new process strengthens protections for victims and makes Members of Congress personally liable for their misconduct. This law will help ensure that men and women who work in the Congress have the safe workplace environment they, and all Americans, deserve.”
The new law fundamentally changes the way harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims are handled in Congress. Specifically, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act:
- Eliminates the required 30-day “counseling” period, the required 30-day mediation phase, and the 30-day “cooling off” period.
- Allows a victim to immediately pursue an administrative hearing or file a civil action.
- Holds Members of Congress personally liable by requiring them to reimburse the Treasury for awards and settlements stemming from acts of harassment or retaliation they personally commit, including Members who leave office.
- Provides employees with access to a dedicated advocate who will provide consultation and assistance regarding proceedings before the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
- Requires public reporting of past and future awards and settlements.
- Requires awards or settlements to be automatically referred to the Committee on Ethics.
- Extends the protections for Legislative Branch staff under the Congressional Accountability Act to include unpaid workers, such as interns, detailees and fellows.
- Provides opportunities for employees to work remotely or request paid leave without fear of retribution.
- Requires offices to post information about the Office Congressional Workplace Rights and the “rights, protections and procedures” provided to workers covered under the Act.
- Requires a survey of staff each Congress to examine the workplace culture on Capitol Hill.
- Provides additional support for state, district and regional Legislative Branch staff to ensure they have the same access to Office of Congressional Workplace Rights resources, training opportunities, guidance and advice as Washington D.C. based legislative branch workers.