Ryan urges lawmakers to undergo training on sexual harassment

Ryan urges lawmakers to undergo training on sexual harassment
© Camille Fine

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose RNC chair on election: We are on track to win the White House Kenosha will be a good bellwether in 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) urged House members on Friday to undergo sexual harassment awareness training and mandate it for their staffs, amid calls for the training to be required for congressional offices.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter to fellow lawmakers, Ryan said he has “heard from members with real concerns about the House’s policies.”

“Each of us has a responsibility to ensure a workplace that is free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” Ryan wrote. “To that end, I strongly encourage you to complete sexual harassment training and to mandate the training for your staff. We can and should lead by example.”

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The House Administration Committee announced later Friday that it will hold a hearing on Nov. 14 to discuss sexual harassment prevention policies. 

“We need to make certain that the House provides the needed sexual harassment awareness training, as well as policies that support a person’s rights to report when they have been victimized,” Chairman Gregg HarperGregory (Gregg) Livingston HarperCongress sends bill overhauling sexual harassment policy to Trump's desk Dems cry foul in undecided N.C. race Mississippi New Members 2019 MORE (R-Miss.) said in a statement.

Congressional office staff are not currently required to undergo sexual harassment awareness training, unlike executive branch employees. Some lawmakers voluntarily require it for their offices, like Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), who introduced a bill last week to make the training mandatory.

The Office of Compliance, Office of the House Chief Administrative Officer and the Office of the House Employment Counsel each offer optional sexual harassment training for lawmakers and staff.

The House Administration Committee is conducting a review of current policies for sexual harassment prevention on Capitol Hill.

Ryan, through a spokeswoman, had previously expressed support for the committee’s review.

The Speaker’s direct appeal to lawmakers came hours after current and former female House members told The Associated Press that they had been sexually harassed by male colleagues.

The female lawmakers said the incidents occurred years ago, generally when they were new to Congress. None would identify the perpetrators by name, but said at least two of the men are still serving in Congress.

Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who is now a member of House Democratic leadership, told the AP that she was propositioned by a married male member. Another male colleague, she said, repeatedly ogled her and touched her inappropriately on the House floor.

“The problem is, as a member there’s no [human resources] department you can go to, there’s nobody you can turn to. Ultimately, they’re employed by their constituents,” Sánchez told the AP.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), last week, posted a video in which she shared her experience of sexual harassment while working as a congressional staffer, when a chief of staff forcibly kissed her.

“Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long,” Speier said.

Speier also introduced a bipartisan bill this week to make sexual harassment training mandatory every year for lawmakers and staff, who would then have to file a certification of completion with the House Ethics Committee.

In addition, Speier plans to unveil another bill next week to overhaul the process available to staff to file harassment complaints. Under the current system, Capitol Hill staffers must take part in months of counseling and mediation with the employing office before they can file a formal complaint with the Office of Compliance.

Lawmakers have shown bipartisan support in the past for making sexual harassment training mandatory for members and staff.

The House adopted an amendment authored by Speier to a spending bill in 2014 that would have set aside $500,000 for mandatory sexual harassment training for congressional offices. It was adopted by voice vote with support from then-chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, former Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.).

However, Speier’s proposal ultimately did not become law.

Scott Wong contributed. This story was updated at 2:52 p.m.