House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and State Rep. RoseLee Vincent joined their colleagues in the House to unanimously vote to strengthen House Rules in an effort to ensure a workplace free of sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination. The updates include multiple measures designed to foster a culture of professionalism and accountability.
The House’s action last week follows an order by Speaker DeLeo, adopted by the House on Oct. 27, 2017, which directed House Counsel to undertake an independent review and provide recommendations to ensure a workplace free of sexual harassment and retaliation.
“The new House rules represent some of the strongest measures in the nation when it comes to fostering a safe, professional workplace,” said Speaker DeLeo. “I thank House Counsel for its incredibly thorough work. I also want to thank my colleagues and House staffers who shared their input and contributed to this process.”
“I want to thank Speaker DeLeo, House Counsel, and my colleagues for their dedication to strengthening Legislative policies with regard to harassment,” said Rep. Vincent. “No employee, either in the private sector or the public sector, should ever have to endure harassment. I am glad that the House has taken steps to formalize HR policies to ensure those working in the State House feel protected and safe in their work environment.”
Following adoption of the order, House Counsel undertook a thorough review process and engaged outside counsel which subsequently performed a comprehensive HR audit and policy review. Counsel held four listening sessions for members and seven listening sessions for staff. Counsel also reviewed best practices from across the nation and met with a diverse group of external experts including the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Jane Doe, Inc., the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Attorney General’s Office, the Boston Area Rape Crises Center, the UMass Lowell Center for Women and Work, the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance and the Victim Rights Law Center.
The House’s reform package restructures and expands its human resources capabilities by establishing a new position of the House Equal Employment Opportunity Officer (EEO Office). The EEO officer, an autonomous office, will have focused expertise in harassment prevention and conducting employment related investigations. They will be responsible for enforcing the House’s anti-discrimination policy, including harassment, and instituting measures to prevent disparate treatment in the future.
Additionally, the House will employ a Director of Human Resources to execute day-to-day HR functions and a director of employee engagement to provide professional development and targeted employee training.
The new rules improve the complaint and investigation processes for harassment to encourage reporting and accommodate both formal and informal complaints. The complaint process will be structured with multiple points of contact where both Members and employees can submit complaints. All complaints will be referred to the EEO officer who will assess and investigate every complaint of disparate treatment.
The reforms also mandate annual, in person sexual harassment training for Members, staff and interns, including bystander training. The House will also hold general orientation training for all new Members and staff, and develop management training for supervisory staff. Taken together, the goal of these reforms is to ensure a culture of professionalism and accountability over the long term.
As part of this of comprehensive rules reform package, the House also adopted an order requiring that a multi-year professional and confidential sexual harassment climate survey be conducted. The first survey will be conducted this summer to establish a baseline. Additional surveys will be conducted again in 2020 and 2022 to help measure the effectiveness of the rules reforms.