The National Whistleblower Center, as a member of the Workplace Sexual Harassment Coalition, has signed a letter to the House of Representatives with a set of recommendations for the bipartisan bill, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, the bill aims to improve the workplace environment for Congressional staff.
According to a Committee on House Administration press release, in broad strokes the bill aims to (i) better protect employees; (ii) streamline the process to report and resolve disputes; (iii) hold Members personally responsible for their conduct and any sexual harassment awards or settlements; (iv) improve and strengthen transparency.
Whistleblowers are an integral part of combatting sexual harassment in the workplace. As has been demonstrated repeatedly in the past months, it is whistleblowers who have stepped up to speak out about inappropriate conduct and expose wrongdoing. From Hollywood to Olympic teams to Silicon Valley, sexual harassment is a problem that transcends all industries.
Congress is no exception. In a CNN survey of 50 people, including lawmakers and Hill staffers, almost all stated that they had either directly experienced sexual harassment or knew of a colleague who had experienced such behavior. A number of Congressmen have already announced resignations in response to allegations, but many accusations would have been made public long ago had the process for reporting harassment been more streamlined and transparent. As the law currently stands, those who want to file a lawsuit regarding sexual harassment can only do so after a months-long process of counseling and mediation.
“The new bill will take away these impediments to justice,” says Mary Jane Wilmoth of the National Whistleblower Center. “The required counseling and mediation is cut from the law, so whistleblowers can now directly file their case in a federal court.”
Leaders of the Workplace Sexual Harassment Coalition have reported that the recommendations outlined in the letter signed by the National Whistleblower Center, and a hundred or so other organizations, have been reviewed, and many have been incorporated into the legislation.
Moving forward, the Committee on House Administration has planned to meet today (2/5), for a markup of the bill. It may be on the House floor later in the week. The National Whistleblower Center is hopeful that, with public pressure, the law will be enacted in the near future.
Recommended reading: For #MeToo Moment to Last, Strengthen Whistleblower Protections