The growing wave of sexual harassment allegations coming out of Hollywood, Silicon Valley and giant media companies has finally hit Capitol Hill. Following hearings in which numerous lawmakers and staffers spoke about their experiences of being sexually assaulted by their colleagues, both the US Senate and House announced resolutions requiring anti-harassment training for all members of Congress, staff and interns.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a written statement, “As a body of elected officials, we Senators have an obligation to set an example. Establishing a healthy and productive work environment should be no exception to that obligation. We should do everything possible to make sure our colleagues and staffs don’t have to endure harassment if we can prevent it. Trainings like this are important for cultivating the right kind of working environment and setting the baseline standards that any place of work should have.”
The Senate and House legislation was followed by a bipartisan bill called the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act or the ME TOO Act, referring to the viral social media campaign that encourages those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to share their stories.
Introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif), the goal of the ME TOO Act is to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in Congress, modernize and streamline the complaint process and provide better support for victims and whistleblowers. In addition to requiring mandatory annual training for members of Congress and staff, the ME TOO Act would also provide interns with access to the same resources and protections as paid staff.
At a press conference, Senator Gillibrand spoke of the pervasiveness of workplace sexual harassment and the personal and financial costs to its victims.
“Regardless of the industry, regardless of political ideology, regardless of age and regardless of gender, what we are seeing time and again in institutions all around the country is a culture where power and fear keep sexual assault and sexual harassment in the shadows. Congress is not immune from this scourge. We cannot wish it away. We cannot simply train our way out of it. We have to go much further.”
As the Senate and House prepare to expand and improve their anti-harassment training programs in 2018, here are five ways organizations can reduce the risk of unlawful discrimination and harassment and foster respect and civility in the workplace:
- Take a holistic approach to preventing harassment, discrimination and other unwelcome conduct. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) believes that workplace culture exerts the greatest impact on whether organizations actively prevent harassment or allow it to proliferate.
- Conduct specific anti-harassment and sensitivity training for supervisors and managers so they know how to identify potential risk factors and can take appropriate actions to minimize or eliminate the risk of harassment.
- Integrate civility training into your anti-harassment training to promote respect, courtesy and fairness. The EEOC recommends civility training as a way to reduce a growing trend of workplace harassment and rude, abusive behavior.
- Demonstrate that you take all complaints seriously by offering different options for employees to report incidents of harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Some options are an ethics hotline, a dedicated email address or assigning managers to handle in-person complaints.
- Use email alerts, podcasts, posters and text messages to communicate anti-harassment messages and timely reminders – for example, before the holiday party or industry trade show.
As more people say #MeToo and speak out about sexual misconduct in the workplace, we can expect the spotlight to remain on anti-harassment and sensitivity training. For HR professionals and their organizations, the national spotlight creates a compelling opportunity to expand and improve upon existing anti-harassment training as part of a holistic approach to creating a respectful, harassment-free work environment.