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Congress Takes an Important but Small Step to Prevent Sexual Harassment on the Hill

Capitol at night
Capitol at night
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December 1, 2017

Members of the House of Representatives adopted a resolution this week that would require each of them, along with House employees and officers, to complete an annual mandatory training on workplace rights, including on preventing sexual harassment. The Senate passed a similar resolution last week.

This is good news. If done well, these kinds of trainings can help employees identify the types of behaviors — beyond the obvious — that constitute harassment. They also strengthen employees’ resolve to report offenders.

But let’s be real.

We know that trainings will never end the scourge of sexual harassment that infests Congress and other workplaces across the country. Congress must do more to clean up both of its chambers. And it can start with a laser focus on accountability and leadership in its 535 offices in our nation’s capital and thousands more in states and districts across the country.

A 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlines everything that employers and employees across America, including those on the Hill, need to do. To truly have a sexual harassment free workplace, it is crucial that the commitment and example come from the top and that systems are instituted to hold each individual accountable, including those whose responsibility it is to help prevent and respond to sexual harassment.

The report should be required reading for every congressional office. There’s little doubt that a piercing, honest, and painful discussion about leadership, accountability, and power dynamics in every congressional office and workplace in America is long overdue.

Fortunately, some members of Congress are attempting to go even further to get their house in order. They have introduced legislation — The Member and Employee Training and Oversight on Congress Act, also known as the ME TOO CONGRESS Act— that would pretty much scrap the much maligned, and deservedly so, process for investigating and resolving claims of sexual harassment and other workplace violations.

Congress is starting to take steps in the right direction, but our elected leaders must go much further than mandatory sexual harassment training for members and congressional staff if they want to change the culture on the Hill.

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