The fight to curb sexual harassment in the workplace is coming to Congress.
On Wednesday, Rep. Jackie Speier and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act, also known as the ME TOO Congress Act. The bipartisan legislation aims to prevent sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and change the process of dealing with complaints. Reps. Ann McLane Kuster, Ryan Costello, and Bruce Poliquin are also co-sponsoring the bill.
There's already a reckoning happening on the Hill, like in so many other workplaces: Sexual harassment is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Current and former congresswomen and staffers have detailed their experiences dealing with harassment in the House and Senate. During a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Speier and Rep. Barbara Comstock raised sexual misconduct allegations against some male lawmakers currently serving in Congress, though they didn't name them. Later in the day, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that a sexual harassment awareness training will be mandatory for members and staff. A similar measure was adopted by the Senate last week. But a training is not enough, as the process to report sexual harassment claims in Congress is still flawed.
Under the current system, if someone wants to submit a claim to the Office of Compliance, they have to undergo months of mediation and counseling before filing an official complaint. The parties involved in the case would have to sign a confidentiality agreement during the mediation process, and if the accuser still wishes to proceed with the case, they would have to file a complaint in court or ask for an administrative hearing. It's important to note that only staffers and members can go through the process — interns, fellows, and others can't.
The ME TOO Congress Act would open the process to non-staffers and members, make the counseling and mediation process optional, and give accusers 180 days after the alleged incident to file a complaint. Furthermore, the Office of Compliance would be renamed the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, be required to create an online reporting system, and its website would include the names of offices where complaints have been filed and the monetary amount of all settlements, if applicable. Finally, those filing a complaint would be allowed to work remotely or receive a paid leave of absence if they request it.