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U.S. House strives to reform handling of sexual harassment cases

The passage of a bill by the U.S. House of Representatives represents an overhaul of how the legislative body treats workplace claims of harassment or discrimination. For decades, the Congressional Accountability Act has guided the treatment of these claims from staff members and interns, but critics described that process as secretive and difficult for victims. The new bill attempts to streamline the process and hold legislators responsible for the money paid to victims that come from the U.S. Treasury.

The reform ends the 30-day waiting period imposed previously on employees and interns who made complaints. Additionally, members of Congress involved in financial settlements with victims must repay the money to the Office of Compliance within 90 days. This requirement applies even if they leave office. The bill would also inform the House Ethics Committee about members who had to settle complaints with staff.

Critics of the bill expressed concern that its provisions would limit the ability of victims to file lawsuits. The new process might also reduce the ability of the public to access information about claims filed by people working on Capitol Hill.

An employee at any workplace has many factors to consider when trying to report sexual harassment. A person could ask an attorney for legal advice before taking action or after receiving an inadequate response to a complaint. With legal support, someone might learn how to document problems like lewd comments, unwanted sexual advances or retaliation after making a complaint. A lawyer could confront the employer with the evidence and pursue a settlement. This effort could include filing a formal complaint with a labor regulatory agency. If an employer disputes responsibility, an attorney could advance the case to the courtroom. The damages that a victim could potentially recover could include lost pay.