Hoyer Calls for Mandatory Training on Workplace Rights

Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:00pm

Updated: 1:42 p.m.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday called for new mandatory training for both Members and aides on workplace rights and protections, in response to news reports last week that aides to former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) endured months of alleged sexual harassment with “nowhere to turn.”

The Maryland lawmaker outlined his proposal in letters to the Office of Compliance, House ethics committee and the House Administration Committee.

In each of the letters, Hoyer referred to an April 13 report in the Washington Post in which unnamed aides alleged that Massa’s office tolerated “sex talk and lewd behavior” for months and did not report the accusations.

“The obvious implication of this story is that the vast majority of House employees, especially younger and relatively inexperienced employees, are generally unaware of the options available to them to report possible cases of workplace or sexual harassment, or violations of the House ethics rules, that may occur in their offices,” Hoyer wrote to OOC Chairwoman Barbara Camens.

Although all House aides are required to complete one hour of training on House ethics rules annually — senior aides must also complete an additional hour of training — there is no mandatory course on workplace rights and protections.

“[M]ost employees probably do not know the Office of Compliance even exists, defeating the Office’s purpose,” Hoyer wrote to the OOC.

Congressional employees, including House and Senate aides, may file formal complaints with the Office of Compliance under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, which applied laws covering civil rights, fair employment and discrimination to Capitol Hill offices.

In his letters to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the ethics committee, and the OOC, Hoyer proposed incorporating information about workplace rights into annual ethics training.

In his letter to the House Administration panel, Hoyer also recommended adding a session to new Member orientation on workplace laws, which would be mandatory for both lawmakers and at least one aide.

“The current ethics training rightly emphasizes the ethics responsibilities of House staff, but it is generally silent on staff rights in the workplace,” Hoyer added.

In the meantime, Hoyer proposed both the OOC and the ethics committee conduct a survey to determine how familiar House aides are with both offices.

“I recommend as a starting point that the Committee immediately collaborate with the Office of Compliance to educate all House staff, including district employees, about the respective functions of these two bodies and how they serve employees when their rights have been violated or when employees have witnessed an ethics violation,” he wrote

The Marylander suggested both the OOC and the ethics panel evaluate their existing operations, “including whether there is anything in its current procedures that chills or discourages employees from reporting legitimate allegations.”

He requested that OOC officials issue their own recommendations to House leadership for potential changes to the Congressional Accountability Act.

“If the statute is inadequate or does not facilitate employees from bringing legitimate workplace complaints to your office, you should inform the House leadership and appropriate oversight committees,” Hoyer wrote.

A Hoyer spokeswoman has previously acknowledged that the Majority Leader’s aides were alerted to allegations against Massa by one of his aides in February, at which time Hoyer’s office threatened to report the matter to the ethics panel if Massa’s aides did not do so. Massa’s staff subsequently reported the allegations.

Massa, who resigned from the House in March, denied any wrongdoing during several television and radio interviews in March but admitted to using “salty language” and engaging in improper physical contact with his staff.

Attorneys for two former Massa aides, including Chief of Staff Joe Racalto, acknowledged last week that the aides filed complaints with the Office of Compliance in late March regarding the allegations.