Congress Passes Sexual Harassment Protections for Congressional Staff, With Focus Likely to Shift to Private Sector

December 14, 2018

Congress has passed legislation that substantially changes how both chambers will handle their own sexual harassment claims, as HR Policy released a new analysis of legislation addressing private sector workplace harassment that may be considered by the new Congress.

The congressional bill will allow staff to immediately pursue an administrative hearing or file a civil action, hold members of Congress personally liable for awards and settlements related to harassment they personally commit, and require public reporting of awards and settlements.

A new HR Policy analysis of a possible bipartisan legislative approach to reducing workplace harassment, the EMPOWER Act (H.R. 6406/S. 2988 & 2994), highlights how the bill would impact private sector workplaces.  Specifically, the report highlights how:

  • The bill’s provision to prohibit nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements (except under certain conditions) would create unnecessary liability questions;

  • The creation of a confidential Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “tip-line” could disrupt or cause confusion regarding the hotlines and other reporting systems that employers have widely adopted for employees to use; and

  • The requirement for publicly traded companies to annually report to the Securities and Exchange Commission the number of harassment settlements and settlement amounts would harm investors by providing misleading information that has no value as a comparative measure.

“It goes without saying that HR Policy Association members are committed to eliminating harassment in the workplace,” said HR Policy CEO Dan Yager.  “Not only is this the right thing to do, but employers also recognize the fundamental role that an inclusive culture and diverse workplace play in attracting, motivating, and developing the caliber of talent they need.  Chief human resources officers take the issue of workplace harassment very seriously and their prevention efforts go well beyond mere legal compliance.  From setting clear expectations throughout their organizations by the ‘tone at the top,’ to proactive employee engagement and training, our members take many innovative and effective steps to ensure their companies have positive and respectful cultures, free from harassment and discrimination.”

New laws are not the key:  The analysis includes the results of a membership survey identifying the most significant factors that need to be addressed regarding sexual harassment in any workplace as being: providing a safe place for reporting (91%), greater representation of women at all levels of the organization (73%), and workplace cultural factors (65%).  Only eight percent identified new laws as being the solution.