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Mandatory Sexual Harassment Trainings for Congress and Their Staffs?

file0001838914447You’ve likely heard by now the story of freshman Louisiana Congressman Vance McAllister (R-La.) kissing one of his staffers.  Now, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is trying to make it so that Representatives and their staffs have to undergo mandatory sexual harassment training.

Unlike the rest of the federal government and many private companies, there is no specific requirement in place that requires U.S. Representatives and their staffs to receive sexual harassment training.  And unlike many of your own workplaces, there aren’t posters and signs in break areas reminding workers of regulations and how to report unwanted conduct.  Many offices don’t even discuss sexual harassment policies at all.  The Senate has training courses for new employees, but several different policies can apply.  The House has no training schedule, but has handbooks.

Frustrated by the seemingly haphazard way these regulations have been put in place in Congress, Rep. Speier said “This is the House of Representatives, not a frat house.”  She continued, “it is time for all of us to get trained – elected officials and their staffs – to recognize what sexual harassment is, and how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens.”  Other lawmakers have expressed concern about these kinds of problems in the past.

This seems like a perfect time to remind you of your rights regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.  As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) says on its website, “it is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”  There are a lot of common stereotypes as to what we think sexual harassment looks like, and it’s always good to remind ourselves that sexual harassment can take many forms and can affect many different people, irrespective of their genders or job titles.

Harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature, though, and can include merely generic offensive comments about someone’s gender.  For instance, an individual woman could potentially have a sexual harassment cause of action if someone made offensive comments about women in general.  Furthermore, you don’t have to be a woman to be a victim of sexual harassment, and you don’t have to be a man to be the harasser, and the victim and the harasser can both be the same gender.

Additionally, your harasser doesn’t necessarily have to be your direct supervisor.  Harassers can include your supervisor, a supervisor from another part of your company, a coworker, or someone who isn’t an employee of your company, such as a customer or client.

Keep in mind that these protections may or may not be available to you based on the size of your employer.  You generally have 180 days to file a charge with the EEOC, although federal employees have 45 days to get in touch with an EEO counselor.  Our attorneys have experience in managing the EEOC process and can help you if you think you’ve been harassed at work.  Please click the contact us link above and reach out if you need assistance.