- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2017

The most frequent types of sexual harassment in the workplace on Capitol Hill are blonde jokes, comments about premenstrual syndrome and referring to the “mommy track” for female employees, the Senate’s most prominent anti-harassment training video says.

In the video, which was produced in 2011, employees are told not to pester colleagues with unwanted invitations and to be wary of internet use at work.

Complimenting a colleague can be done, but lawmakers and staffers must be watchful of their language, the video says. Sexually suggestive tones or eye contact are bad.

And employees should take their cues from co-workers, the video says. A sigh or rolling the eyes can be a signal someone’s gone too far — but at the same time, physical signals aren’t enough to indicate whether behavior was offensive.

“The most common form of workplace harassment would include jokes and teasing,” a lawyer for the Senate’s Chief Counsel of Employment says in the roughly 50-minute training video, which senators can use as part of their newly mandated anti-harassment training.

Capitol Hill is scrambling to catch up with a fast-moving national conversation on sexual harassment, discrimination and other issues in the workplace.

Last month, senators voted to require mandatory training for every lawmaker and staffer but left the specifics up to individual offices. Some are likely to opt for more intensive in-person training, but for other offices, the video will likely be enough to check the box for training.

The House voted Wednesday to adopt its own mandatory anti-harassment training policy, though the standards are still to be written by lawmakers.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has pushed for years for better enforcement against harassment, said she wants the House to go beyond a staffer sitting at a computer.

“Training must be more than an online module,” Ms. Speier said on the chamber floor as the House debated its new rules. “It must be in person, interactive and specific to congressional workplace issues and it must be taken seriously.”

In the Senate, the new rules require employees to certify they have completed the training as determined by the senator, committee or other agency they work for, have received and read their office’s anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure, and have been given information about how to settle disputes.

Congress is a unique situation. Each senator and representative operates in many ways as a separate business, and imposing a single policy across all of those offices could be tricky.

Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, on Friday called for his colleagues to hold public hearings on the issue.

“Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious, widespread problem,” Mr. Reed said. “Congress should start the process of reform with an open hearing that sheds more light on the scope of the issue and leads to positive changes.”

Advocates said it’s necessary for staffers to have a single policy for how to report complaints. Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, suggested the Office of Compliance could fit the bill.

“In light of the recent allegations, there needs to be a new system of reporting,” Ms. Nance said.

She also criticized the Senate video, saying it is an attempt to be “politically correct” rather than grappling with the intricacies of harassment and discrimination.

“The allegations are so much more serious. The issue is not a blonde joke. It is whether or not a member thinks it is OK to invite someone into his office in his underwear,” said Ms. Nance. “However, I am not sure any amount of training can get to that level of crazy.”

Ms. Nance was referring to Rep. John Conyers Jr., the longest-serving member of Congress who has been accused of harassment, unwanted sexual advances and seeing him at work in pajamas or underwear.

Mr. Conyers has denied the allegations through his aides.

While the House works on its procedures, the Senate Rules Committee already has issued an order requiring every employee who hasn’t already have training to get up to speed by Jan. 8.

New hires have 60 days to do training, and all lawmakers and employees must be retrained during each Congress, or every two years. Interns and executive branch employees posted to Capitol Hill to lend expertise to Congress also are required to take the training.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide