Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday asking for a new policy to require Senate staff to receive sexual harassment training.
Grassley is the chief author of the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, put in place for handling misconduct on Capitol Hill, according to Politico, which obtained a copy of the letter: “I am convinced that sexual harassment training is vitally important to maintaining a respectful and productive work environment in Congress,” Grassley wrote.
Grassley, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that while some training does take place, it is not mandatory.
Meanwhile, in the House, the Administration Committee, which processes internal chamber rules, began a review of current harassment policy this week, a move approved by Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office.
Following the release of a video last week sharing her experience of being sexually harassed as a young staffer on the Hill, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced legislation that would streamline the process a harassment victim must go through on Capitol Hill to get a complaint acted on. It would also make harassment training mandatory not only for staff, but lawmakers.
As current policy reveals, the odds are stacked against sexual harassment victims.
Sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill are handled by the Congressional Office of Compliance, under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. A staffer has 180 days after the alleged incident to file for counseling.
After 30 days of counseling, the employee can request private mediation with their office to resolve the matter.
If the employee and the office can’t reach a resolution, there are two options to pursue: an employee can either file an administrative complaint and have their case heard by a hearing officer in a private setting, or file a lawsuit in federal district court.
The Washington Post reported that even if a lawsuit is successful, the perpetrator is not on the hook for financial compensation:
When settlements do occur, members do not pay them from their own office funds, a requirement in other federal agencies. Instead, the confidential payments come out of a special U.S. Treasury fund.
Grassley said that a letter from the Rules Committee could suffice to quickly make sexual harassment training mandatory.
In another development, the Office of Compliance is also being pro-active on the sexual harassment issue. Politico reported on an OOC email:
“Sexual harassment scandals in the news have provided a watershed moment for employees to prioritize taking the Office of Compliance’s sexual harassment training,” OOC publications and outreach manager Laura Cech wrote in the email. “The online training takes less than 30 minutes, but provides valuable information on what behavior is considered sexual harassment and how to prevent sexual harassment in the congressional workplace.”
In recent years the OOC has recommended that Congress make sexual harassment training mandatory, according to Politico.
The GOP-controlled Congress created the OOC in 1995 in the aftermath of the scandal involving then-Sen. Bob Packwood’s (R-OR) widespread sexual harassment claims. Following an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, Packwood resigned.