Opinion

Legislature: Solve your harassment problem

A woman being harassed in the workplace as a colleague looks on. Capitol. (Photo: Antonio Guillem)

California has long sponsored the most progressive, socially responsible policies and regulations in the country – including regulations about harassment prevention education for managers.

In fact, California regulations have detailed requirements of which topics to include in AB1825 training, how to prevent harassment and retaliation, how to report and respond to harassment complaints if they do occur and how to publish a complaint and investigation procedure. Employers throughout the country have followed the California regulations as a model.

Legislators (over 75% men) have either avoided acknowledging the harassment problem or have been at a loss as to how to solve it.

And yet it seems the cobbler’s children go without shoes. Our own employees at the Capitol have been exposed to a harassing and abusive workplace culture … stories that have come out recently as the #metoo movement has inspired victims to share their stories.

 Unfortunately, instead of a well designed program to protect all people who work at our State Capitol, there’s ambiguity regarding who’s responsible for creating a safe working environment; how and where someone can report a complaint; who receives and investigates complaints and who can enforce disciplinary actions against elected officials (if at all).

Granted, the partisan politics complicate matters, but it’s hard to ignore that the legislators (over 75% men) have either avoided acknowledging the harassment problem or have been at a loss as to how to solve it.

We need to make fast progress towards a solution. Here’s what needs to happen in an integrated, effective way to change the culture of the work environment for everyone who works at the Capitol – from elected officials to junior staffers to interns.

–Hire a retired judge or lawyer to be a neutral “magistrate” to the Capitol and empower this person to receive complaints and order workplace investigations and recommend disciplinary proceedings against workers, including elected officials. Ideally someone of similar stature and experience as Eric Holder, our former U.S. Attorney General and current counsel for the State of California.  Someone of that stature would be a neutral authority who could help change the workplace culture at the Capitol.

–Publish an annual gender equity report showing the total number of employees at the Capitol and the number of women in leadership roles — both as elected officials and as senior staffers. Publicly call out those offices that need more diversity.  Leadership always sets the tone and without enough women at the top to create a critical mass, we’ll continue to experience these types of culture problems.

–Provide the mandated (AB 1825) 2 hour harassment training to all managers, and extend a shorter version of it to all employees. Educate everyone to be alert for, and learn how to stop, harassment.

–Provide everyone 24/7 access to videos and mini-lessons and neutral experts who can provide online, confidential guidance on what is or isn’t harassment and how best to respond to certain situations to navigate and de-escalate workplace issues before they turn into bigger problems. Similar to employee assistance programs (EAP), this service provides an employee benefit — a DIY solution for employees to solve workplace problems.

–Implement a modern reporting app that reports harassment complaints to the neutral magistrate who can decide the best course of action to address and resolve the issue.

Our state Capitol has nearly 2,000 people dedicated to California.  That’s not a big workforce and we should be able to figure out a realistic, practical solution to fix our harassment problem and provide the rest of the country a model for a socially responsible, harassment-free legislative work environment.

Ed’s Note: Janine Yancey, an employment lawyer, is the founder and CEO of Emtrain, a technology platform that provides businesses with HR and compliance education, advice and analytics. 


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