Workplace protections for legislative branch employees take effect

Changes include revised dispute resolution process, access to confidential counselor

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights has announced that more workplace protections for legislative branch employees are now in effect. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Legislative branch employees can now take advantage of a revised dispute resolution process and consult with a confidential adviser about their rights when they make workplace claims.

Those are among the protections in the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act. The law also extends workplace protections to unpaid employees, including interns and fellows. Many of the final provisions took effect Wednesday, 180 days after the bill was signed into law in December.

“These are significant changes in the legislative branch workplace and community,” Susan Tsui Grundmann, executive director of the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, said in a press release. “The OCWR has embraced the opportunity to effectively and efficiently implement these measures as we work together to provide a safe and accessible legislative branch that is free from unlawful harassment and discrimination.”

Covered employees now have a secure, online e-filing system to file a claim under the Congressional Accountability Act.

The OCWR, which replaced the Office of Compliance, will also provide secure access to confidential advising, mediation, hearings and appeals processes for legislative branch employees who work outside the Washington, D.C., area. Additionally, the first survey of legislative branch offices about workplace culture will start later in the year.

Having a confidential adviser allows employees to discuss their claims, learn about the process to resolve workplace disputes, and learn how to file a claim. The adviser consults on factual allegations and the relative merits of a claim, explains procedural options and can help in drafting claims, but does not represent employees during proceedings.

The new process still requires discrimination and harassment claims to be filed within 180 days of an alleged violation, but it eliminates mandatory counseling and makes mediation optional.

The law also mandates that members of Congress are personally liable for awards and settlements resulting from acts of harassment or retaliation committed by them and requires employing offices to develop and implement anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training programs.

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