Senate Approves Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Victims of Workplace Harassment and Discrimination

the U.S. Senate approved bipartisan legislation to fundamentally reform the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 by: updating and strengthening the processes available to victims; providing immediate protections for staff; and, holding members of Congress financially accountable.

“There is no place for sexual harassment on our college campuses, in our workplace, our gyms, our military – or anywhere else,” said Senator Ernst, a co-sponsor of the legislation, praising its passage. “It is critical that Congress has zero tolerance for this type of inappropriate behavior in our society. This bipartisan legislation takes the necessary steps to provide victims with greater protections and options, holds members of Congress personally liable for their wrongdoings, and protects taxpayer dollars. I am proud to join my colleagues to ensure that members of the Senate, their staffs, and all employees of the legislative branch, are provided with the necessary training on prevention and reporting procedures to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.”

The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act will update and strengthen the procedures available to victims of harassment and discrimination, and other violations of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. The bipartisan bill was proposed by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

This spring, Senator Ernst joined all 21 of her Democratic and Republican women Senators to call on Senate leadership00 to help survivors of all forms of sexual harassment and discrimination in the congressional workplace.

Specifically, the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act:

  • Fundamentally reforms the current system by overhauling the antiquated dispute resolution process; eliminates the mandatory 30-day counseling period, 30-day mediation phase, and the 30-day “cooling off” period; and eliminating mandatory mediation
  • Provides immediate protection for staff, as well as access to a dedicated advocate for consultation and assistance throughout proceedings
  • Extends protections of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 to unpaid staff including interns, detailees and fellows, as well as staff working at legislative branch commissions like the Helsinki Commission, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership, and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
  • Requires Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) to establish an electronic system for taking in claims by victims, tracking those claims throughout the process, and generating reports on various details of claims
  • Holds members of the Senate and the House personally accountable by requiring them to repay awards and settlements stemming from acts of harassment they personally commit, while ensuring members who leave office will still be responsible for repayment, including garnishment of nongovernment wages and retirement annuities to ensure full repayment
  • Requires public reporting by the OCWR of awards and settlements, and all awards and settlements to be automatically referred to the respective Committees on Ethics for investigation or further action when there is a claim against a member or senior staff
  • Requires the Committees on Ethics to review within 90 days settlements of harassment claims against a member of the House or Senate