In the wake of the #MeToo movement and increased scrutiny for sexual harassment, the U.S. Congress has decided to act. In this case, it’s against themselves.
Both the House and Senate passed a bill that reforms the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA). That law dictates how Congress handles its sexual harassment claims, among other things. The bipartisan bill is now on its way to President Donald Trump’s desk, where he is expected to sign it.
Reforms for harassment claims
The reforms would make lawmakers personally liable for settlements related to harassment and retaliation allegations, even if they are no longer in office. This change comes on the heels of former representatives from Pennsylvania and Texas who used official funds to pay for harassment settlements.
The CAA used to require a 30-day counseling period, a 30-day mediation phase and a 30-day cooling of period required for harassment victims. All of those periods were eliminated in the bill.
The reforms also require an annual report on settlements that would note if a Congressional member was personally liable, and it automatically awards settlements for members or senior staff who are a part of the House and Senate ethics committees.
The right to a safe work environment
Even if an employee works for a government entity or a person in a position of power, they have the right to a safe workplace free from harassment. Congress appears to be taking appropriate steps to protect its employees, and hopefully that will ripple into the private sector as well.