Senate Passes Sexual Harassment Bill Protecting Congressional Staff

June 01, 2018

The Senate passed by voice vote legislation that substantially changes how the chamber handles sexual harassment claims, possibly setting the stage for a private sector measure.

Some in Congress are anxious to work on a private sector bill but face difficulty in doing so before changing the way their own staff members’ claims are handled.

The Senate version is substantially different than the House version that passed in February—the differences will need to be resolved before anything else moves forward.

The key differences include:

  • The House bill ends the mediation process.  The Senate bill maintains mediation but allows employees to opt out of mediation.

  • The House bill also has a more expansive view of cases in which personal liability would be triggered.  The Senate text tightens the liability language, making members responsible for all settlements from their own misconduct, including other forms of discrimination such as gender, race and age discrimination.  The Senate bill also caps lawmaker liability at $300,000.

  • The Senate bill also would make changes to what is reported about awards and settlements, requiring that the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights report annually to Congress and publish on its website all awards and settlements when members are found to be personally liable from the previous year.

What may be ahead for employers:  Once Congress has strengthened its own rules regarding harassment, it could turn to the private sector.  Several such bills with bipartisan support have already been introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 4503, H.R. 4729, H.R. 4729, S. 1605, S. 2203), and key members are working with the business community to determine what, if any, policy changes may be needed to address workplace harassment.