The U.S. Senate passed a bill co-authored by Missouri congressman Roy Blunt that effectively modernized the process of reporting sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. The bill was backed by both Republican and Democratic leaders.
The law will replace legislation passed in 1995 called the Congressional Accountability Act. Proponents of the new measure called the old legislation an “antiquated policy” that forced accusers into mandatory counseling and mediation, among other things.
The measure, which comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement that exposed the sheer scale of sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault, has inspired various attempts to make the process of reporting sexual misconduct easier.
Laws like these sought to bridge the gap between workplace safety and civil rights. Up until 1995, various branches of the Federal Government were exempted from compliance. However, many felt as though the law put undue burdens on the individual who was reporting the harassment, and not enough burdens on the individual who was being accused of harassment.
Employees Could Opt Out of Mediation
The 1995 law had a few gems in it that made the process of reporting sexual harassment an unnecessary effort. For instance, the law not only mandated counseling but required a 30-day “cooling off” period. Employees can now opt out of mediation, though this would still be the default process of remediation.
Though the new law is a step in the right direction, there are those who feel that it does not go far enough and can still be exploited through ambiguity in the text of the law itself.
Specifically, the law mentions “unwelcome harassment” which critics observed was redundant as harassment is intrinsically unwelcome. The law, as it stands now, could limit the kinds of claims an employee who has been sexually harassed can make against a coworker.
Who Pays out Claims Now?
Traditionally, settlements have been paid with taxpayer funds. The new law would require the congressmen themselves to repay the treasury after the settlement award has been disbursed. The language of the law, however, only holds congressmen liable for “compensatory damages” while capping liability at $300,000.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has pointed out that this allows damages to be allocated in a such a manner that limits the sexual harasser’s personal liability. In the end, taxpayers may still end up footing the bill for congressional misconduct.
The new bill also makes disbursements under the program a matter of public record. Congressmen who are found to be guilty of sexual harassment will have the details of the settlement made public in an annual report published on a website.
While this perhaps was not the sweeping regulation that some were hoping for, it remains a step up from the Clinton-era legislation.
Have You Been the Victim of Sexual Harassment in Your Workplace?
You do not have to simply tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace. According to the Missouri Human Rights Act, those who are the victims of sexual harassment are entitled to damages if the behavior is not addressed by their company. Call HKM Employment Law of Kansas City at 816.607.4691 and we will help you make your case in court.