Looking at Sexual Harassment Policies of State Legislatures

In the wake of the influx of employees coming forward in the past year to report workplace sexual harassment, the rally cry of “me too” has evolved into a steady hum ofsexual harassment attorneys “what now?” Many citizens look to lawmakers to fortify harassment laws and create harsher punishments. However, those legislative bodies meant to govern are finding they have their own house cleaning to tend to.

A closer look at each of the nation’s state legislatures by the Associated Press showed nearly all had at least a minimal sexual harassment policy in writing. However, many state bodies may see big changes to policies in 2018 as the various chambers go beyond the minimum and dig deeper into establishing punishments and setting up prevention strategies. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it is considered a form of sex discrimination. This act applies to the conduct of state and local governments. California is among the states considering sexual harassment policy updates in the legislature, spurred by two assemblymen resigning amidst allegations and more investigations underway. Other states on deck for improvements are Alaska, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, and Minnesota  each one also contending with their own harassment allegations. At least 14 legislators across the country have resigned in the past year.

The AP analysis revealed about a third of state legislatures did not require sexual harassment training for lawmakers. Though, some states, like Nebraska, said while it wasn’t mandatory, it was built in to the orientation for new senators, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Other states, including Rhode Island, Arizona, and Idaho, recently held new mandatory training sessions.

Even among states that require training, the report found a great deal of variation with some only requiring it when employees first start their jobs, others requiring annual retraining, and the rest falling somewhere in between. And while quantity is great, quality of training is also important. So if training is every year, but it’s just a video that is shown over and over again, that won’t have the impact that an in-person, interactive training session will have.

Shockingly, most legislatures allow self monitoring of sexual misconduct, with very few enlisting the help of external resources to investigate complaints. Our experienced Orange County sexual harassment attorneys know this is a recipe for disaster. When victims are forced to report misconduct to peers and friends of the perpetrators (or sometimes even directly to the perpetrators themselves), it can cause a cycle of silence. We applaud the brave staffers who have broken this cycle and brought the important issue of harassment in the state houses to the forefront.

Some of the most egregious findings of the AP report included the Arizona House, which wrote their first sexual harassment policy in November 2017, and the Texas House, which had a written policy, but it directed accusers to a defunct phone number at a state commission as the only avenue to file external complaints. Our lawyers hope these legislative bodies set a strong example for their states by protecting employees from harassment with clear-cut policies and strict punishments for those who ignore those polices.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources

Some Legislatures Lack Sexual Misconduct Policies, Training, Jan. 11, 2018, Associated Press

More Blog Entries:

California Democrats Seek Internal Sexual Harassment Accountability, Jan. 5, 2018, Orange County Employment Lawyers Blog