Capitol Hill staffers might be learning a new issue area in the upcoming Congress: preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told the House Rules Committee on Sept. 17 that such training — which currently is voluntary — should be mandatory for members of Congress and their staff. Similar training programs are common in other workplaces and are mandatory in the executive branch.
According to estimates provided by the Office of Compliance, the average number of complaints made by executive branch employees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is 1.1 employees for every 100. However, in the House and Senate, the average is 1 for every 1,000 employees, making it 10 times less likely that a congressional staffer will even seek out information and counseling about their workplace rights.
Harassment and discrimination claims at the Capitol are up in recent years , according to information from the Office of Compliance. The OOC tallied 164 claims of workplace discrimination and/or harassment from employees working at the Capitol in fiscal 2013; the 2012 figure was 134 allegations, though the increase is believed to be from more staffers coming forward, not because workplace conditions have changed.
“Before my staff requested a training, the Office of Compliance said no member had ever asked for training without a report of sexual harassment occurring within their office,” Speier said in a statement. Speier requested sexual harassment prevention training for her office in April 2014. Speier had previously cited the video showing Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., in a passionate kiss with the scheduler in his Louisiana district office as a reason more training is needed.
“We believe that this is one of the best investments Congress can make in itself,” said Scott Mulligan, deputy executive director of the Office of Compliance. Research shows that a comprehensive training program reduces the “hidden costs” of sexual harassment and discrimination, including absenteeism, lowered productivity and the significant costs associated with increased job turnover.
The one-hour training is conducted by staff from the Office of Compliance, and covers sexual harassment; sex, race and disability discrimination; and anti-retaliation.
Speier secured $500,000 in funding for sexual harassment training and outreach in May as part of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. This increase was not included in the Senate version and is pending final resolution at conference.
Staffers seeking more information or wishing to report a harassment complaint can contact the Office of Compliance at (202) 724-9250 or visit the website. All inquiries are strictly confidential.