The House took steps Thursday to further codify a more appropriate culture on Capitol Hill, following last year’s prolonged dispute over how Congress should protect its own staff from harassment and discrimination.
The House Administration Committee voted to approve regulations for mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies for House offices.
Each employing office in the House, including member offices, have 60 days to develop and implement their own policy. The committee released a model policy that lawmakers can use to create their own.
Under the regulations, which were backed by voice vote, policies must define and prohibit quid pro quo and hostile work environment sexual harassment. They must also list and prohibit all forms of unlawful discrimination applicable to the House.
Office policies under the new House regulations must outline a process to prevent, investigate and correct office harassment and discrimination occurring in a timely manner. The reporting process must include a path for reporting harassment to more than just an immediate supervisor.
The process for victims to report harassment or discrimination underwent a major overhaul late last year when House and Senate negotiators finally struck a deal on lawmaker liability.
The new law scrapped the arduous process that required mediation between the victim and their employer, and a 30-day period before a victim could make a decision whether to pursue justice in a courtroom or continue with administrative procedures.
The overhaul followed the swell of the #MeToo movement and a significant number of current and former congressional aides — mostly women — who spoke up about the harassment they faced from members of Congress or colleagues.
The newly required policies in each House office must require “fair, timely, and thorough investigation of any allegation of discrimination or harassment.” The rules must also bar retaliation against an employee for making an “an objectively reasonable good faith complaint, or for objectively reasonable good faith participation in an investigation.”
House offices will have a new role to fill, under the requirements laid out by the committee. Each office must designate an “internal compliance coordinator” responsible for ensuring the office staff is up to date with trainings.
A paper trail will also be mandatory, with every staffer and intern required to sign an acknowledgment that they’ve received, read and understand the anti-harassment policies.
Offices will also have to make room for some new decor, required by the House. The committee adopted a requirement that each office display a statement of rights and protections of House employees.
The statement must be displayed somewhere visible to employees and include contact information for employees to file complaints or ask questions.