The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to update the way Congress handles sexual harassment and other employment law claims, including a number of provisions championed by Alabama 1st District U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne on Tuesday.
As a former labor and employment attorney, Byrne has been part of a group of bipartisan lawmakers writing the reform legislation. The bill fundamentally reforms how sexual harassment and other employment law claims are handled to make the process fairer, smoother, and more transparent.
“This bipartisan legislation is a shining example of how Congress should work. Republicans and Democrats came together to bring the Congressional workplace into the 21st Century and ensure that Congress plays by the same rules as the private sector,” said Byrne.
Last November, Byrne testified before the House Administration Committee to share his ideas about reforming the way sexual harassment and other employment law claims are handled on Capitol Hill. Among his recommendations that were included in the final bill were:
- Requiring mandatory harassment training for all Members of Congress and staff;
- Ensuring all House offices have an anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy;
- Making the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) process mirror what private businesses are subject to through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC);
- Giving investigatory authority to the Office of Compliance (OOC);
- Not requiring all claimants to go through mandatory mediation and counseling;
- Subjecting unpaid interns, pages, fellows, etc. to the CAA’s anti-discrimination provisions;
- Making Members of Congress personally financially responsible for paying any settlements or awards associated for a harassment or discrimination claim the member committed;
- Publishing information regarding sexual harassment and other employment law claims and settlements;
- Prohibiting Members of Congress from engaging in a sexual relationship with members of their staff; and
- Making Member-on-Member sexual harassment a violation of the Official Code of Conduct.
All of those recommendations were adopted today by the House in H.R. 4924, which makes changes to statutory law and requires Senate action, or H.Res.724, which changes House specific rules and practice and will be implemented immediately.
Watch Bryne’s speech below:
The full text of Byrne’s speech can be found below.
I thank the Chairman for yielding.
Prior to coming to Congress, I worked for thirty years as a labor and employment attorney in Alabama. I advised clients on how to prevent sexual harassment and how to navigate the process if a harassment claim was made. Quite frankly, I was shocked to see how complicated the Congressional process for handling sexual harassment and other employment law claims was.
Mr. Speaker, this legislation is a shining example of how Congress should work. Chairman Harper and Ranking Member Brady engaged a bipartisan group of Members, including Rep. Jackie Speier and myself, interested in solving this problem.
After months of thoughtful negotiation, we come to the floor today with a product that this House and the American people can be proud of.
Under this legislation, we will bring the Congressional workplace into the 21st Century and ensure that Congress plays by the same rules as the private sector.
There are far too many important reforms to mention all of them, but I want to highlight a few that I think are especially transformative.
First, the bill creates a fairer and simpler process for employees to file an employment law claim and for the claim to be resolved. The bill creates an office of employee advocacy to ensure staff has access to legal counsel, just as Member offices are provided. The process is also simplified to make the claims process smoother, faster, and fairer.
Second, the bill increases transparency by requiring that basic information about any sexual harassment or other claims be made public so the American people are fully aware of what is happening in the Congress.
Third, the bill will ensure that Members of Congress, not taxpayers, are responsible for paying out sexual harassment settlements.
Fourth, the related resolution paves the way for every Congressional office to have a clearly defined anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy. This reform alone will result in greater awareness.
Fifth, the resolution prohibits Members of Congress from engaging in a sexual relationship with any staff member under their supervision and makes clear that sexual harassment is a violation of the Code of Official Conduct and will not be tolerated.
In closing, I want to again thank Chairman Harper and Ranking Member Brady for their leadership on this issue, and I strongly urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation and the related resolution.