Staffers Give Mandatory Harassment Training Mixed Reviews

One month left to complete training mandated after #MeToo revelations

Staffers who were former staffers were asked what they would do differently if they got a do-over. (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call file photo)
Staffers who were former staffers were asked what they would do differently if they got a do-over. (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 4, 2018 at 5:00am

Some called it valuable. Others called it a nuisance. 

But workplace harassment and discrimination training is something all House staffers are required to complete by July 2, and more than half of them have done so since mid-April. 

While some staffers said they felt uncomfortable discussing sensitive issues in the open, many were willing to share with Roll Call their thoughts about the sessions.

One staffer described the training as very corporate — nonconfrontational and quiet. Others said things got heated in the sessions they attended, with a lot of back and forth.

“I could see where people could think it was a little uncomfortable. But I don’t see a better approach to this,” a staffer said. “Sometimes, it’s good to make people feel a little uncomfortable because it makes you think about things. This whole issue is uncomfortable.”

Staffers are attending the Workplace Rights and Responsibilities education sessions because of a resolution adopted by the House in November at the height of the #MeToo movement. By the end of last week, 7,000 staffers (on the Hill and in districts) had completed the training, which the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer estimated is more than half of those required to take it.

The office could not give Roll Call an exact number of the House staffers who have to go through the training. On the Hill alone, with 441 offices of voting and nonvoting members and 21 committee offices, each with about 20 on staff, that works out to more than 9,000 staffers.

What happens

Sessions often begin with a disclaimer that the trainers are not attorneys and aren’t offering legal advice, staffers said. 

Attendees also said there were few declarations on what they should and shouldn’t do.

“Your awareness is being raised and you hear from people in the room — their thoughts on what could be a problem … but then there’s no overall authority, so to speak, saying, ‘No, a supervisor should not do that’ or ‘If a co-worker does this, you should do X,’” a staffer recalled.

The training runs for 90 minutes, usually with no breaks. Some staffers felt people were just trying to get through the hour and a half and weren’t there mentally.

“I like the fact that they’re shedding light on the topic, but the training itself is kind of a nuisance,” one staffer said. “To schedule that kind of chunk of time out of your day is a lot to ask. I feel like it could have been condensed to a 30 to 45 minute session. It didn’t need to be as long as it was.”

Given the length, “people are going to tune out and not take it seriously or be on their phones,” the staffer added.

At the end of the sessions, attendees are asked to give anonymous feedback on their phones, which is then projected on a screen. A staffer recalled one response: “Waste of taxpayer dollars.”

How they saw it

While some staffers described the training as a waste of time, others saw a lot of value in it being mandatory.

“I think it was definitely needed for some people,” a staffer said. “Our session focused heavily on race and it was a mixed crowd, so it provided a much-needed space to share some of those thoughts.”

Not all sessions have gone on without a hitch. 

In one instance, staffers showed up for training only to be turned away because the room was too small. Another training episode began with staffers waiting for 10 minutes as organizers worked on technical issues before they were told the session was canceled.

The training requires attendees to work with a partner. Some staffers have signed up for sessions with people who work in their office or with friends.

“I went with my co-worker. You do have partner participation. I’m comfortable with my co-worker,” a staffer said.

Another option is to do the session for the entire office, but that would come with a $4,275 price tag.

“It would be beneficial to have it in your office in more of a closed setting,” a staffer said. “I feel like you’d be more engaged then. You’d be around your co-workers and you’re comfortable with them.”

But not everyone felt that way.

“It would be more convenient but if you have a toxic environment, probably doing it in the office might not be best for everyone. If people have honest questions, you might not feel as comfortable asking that in front of your co-workers,” a staffer said.