A push to make anti-sexual-harassment training mandatory on Capitol Hill gathered momentum this week after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) urged colleagues to apply the policy to all employees of the upper chamber.
“I am convinced that sexual harassment training is vitally important to maintaining a respectful and productive working environment in Congress,” Grassley wrote to the leaders of the Senate Rules Committee in a letter Tuesday.
“Therefore, I respectfully request that the Committee on Rules and Administration consider the immediate implementation of a policy requiring all new Senate employees . . . as well as all current employees who have not yet received it” to undergo “online or in-person sexual harassment training,” he wrote.
Grassley’s endorsement could accelerate a change in policy on Capitol Hill, where new stories of sexual harassment have emerged following a rash of allegations of abuse and misbehavior by movie producer Harvey Weinstein. The Iowa Republican wrote the 1995 law creating some workplace protections for congressional employees, but anti-harassment training is still voluntary, unlike in most federal agencies, as The Post recently reported .
His letter, which did not mention mandatory training for lawmakers, was first reported by Politico.
“Senator Klobuchar and I are working closely with our colleagues to address the issue in the most effective manner,” Senate Rules Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a statement. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is the panel’s ranking Democrat.
New bills in the House are triggering the same debate, though their details vary.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) plans to introduce bipartisan legislation Thursday requiring lawmakers and staff to undergo annual mandatory anti-harassment training. Speier, a longtime advocate for mandatory training, joined the “me too” social media campaign on Friday by describing her experience with unwanted sexual advances as a congressional staffer in the 1970s.
“Many of us in Congress know what it’s like, because Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long,” Speier said in a video released by her office.
A separate bill from Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) would require Hill employees to receive training every other year. Introduced last week, it had 51 co-sponsors as of midday Wednesday, including one Republican, Rep. Bruce Poliquin (Maine).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports efforts to require anti-harassment training. Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has said systems can always be improved but has not specifically endorsed mandatory training.
“The speaker believes the House Administration Committee is right to review the standing procedures and resources available to staff,” press secretary AshLee Strong wrote Wednesday in an email to The Post.
Speier is also preparing legislation to overhaul the process for resolving workplace disputes on Capitol Hill and to implement a survey to measure the scope of sexual harassment.
The process for reporting harassment has drawn scrutiny in recent weeks.
Under the current rules, congressional employees must undergo months of counseling and mediation through the Office of Compliance before filing a lawsuit against their harassers. Settlements are paid out of a special U.S. Treasury account.
In the executive branch, mediation is an option but not required for employees who want to pursue legal claims, and settlements come out of agency budgets.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D. C.) called attention Tuesday to the ways Congress has exempted itself from workplace rules that apply to the rest of the government. She proposed legislation that would end this disparity.
“It is impossible to justify exempting congressional offices from the comprehensive provisions Congress now requires of private employers and federal agencies, especially sexual harassment laws that protect workers, such as requiring employers to post workers’ rights or to conduct training,” Norton said in a statement.
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