The House has introduced a landmark bill called the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act that would overhaul the existing complaint process for victims reporting workplace harassment. The bipartisan legislation has been three months in the making and comes after the recent resignations and retirement of multiple members of Congress accused of sexual harassment.
The bill would create a legal office to represent complainants, prohibit non-disclosure agreements, and prohibit employment retaliation. Those filing complaints could continue to work remotely during proceedings, or take paid leave, but they would not lose their jobs. The bill also aims to provide more public transparency and simplify the process of filing a complaint.
Savings to Taxpayers
Perhaps the biggest change brought by the new legislation is that settlements may no longer be paid using taxpayer funds. Lawmakers who face allegations must reimburse the U.S. Treasury within 90 days of a settlement and those who do not will have their wages garnished, and also their retirement account and Social Security if necessary.
There will be a new certification process for lawmakers to ensure that settlements do not get paid out of their congressional office accounts. Since 1993, more than $400,000 in taxpayer money has been paid out from the U.S. Treasury to defend members of the House and Senate against claims of sexual harassment.
Changes to the Complaint Process
The present process of filing a complaint requires that the person bringing the complaint first sign a non-disclosure agreement. Also mandatory are a 30-day counseling stage and 30-day mediation stage – something critics say intimidates accusers from seeing their complaints through to the end. All three requirements will be removed so that investigations can begin immediately when a complaint is brought. Mediation can be used on a voluntary basis. To ensure the legitimacy of allegations, the bill will require that complaints be filed under oath.
House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed his approval of the bill by saying it would “give victims of workplace harassment the resources they need to get the justice they deserve.” The lawmakers who wrote the bill said that they spent months listening and learning about how to improve the complaint process which is well known for being cumbersome and degrading for the victim. The reforms change the focus of the process from protecting the offender to justice for the victim. Building on the societal awareness of harassment brought to light by the #MeToo movement, the aim of the House bill is to create a culture change in the workplace for both members of Congress and staff.
Employers have a responsibility to maintain a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Those who find themselves in a hostile work environment have the right to file a complaint without fear of retaliation in the form of adverse employment actions such as termination, demotion, or loss of benefits.
Marlton Sexual Harassment Lawyers at McOmber & McOmber, P.C. Represent Victims of Workplace HarassmentIf you have experienced harassment on the job, consult with a dedicated Marlton sexual harassment lawyer at McOmber & McOmber, P.C. who can provide you with skilled counsel in every matter of employment law. Call 856-985-9800 today for a free consultation about your case or contact us online. Our offices are conveniently located in Marlton and Red Bank serving clients throughout New Jersey, including those in Cherry Hill and Middletown.