House cracks down on sexual harassment on Capitol Hill

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol building is lit at dusk in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers must pay their own awards and settlements in sexual harassment cases instead of tapping public funds, under a measure approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday which also took other steps to strengthen worker protections for congressional employees.

Under the bipartisan measures updating employee protections enacted in 1995, the personnel office must also regularly report and publish settlements, a departure from past practices in which settlements were secret.

“These comprehensive reforms will provide a positive change of culture within the congress, and improve the overall process of both preventing and reporting any harassment in the future,” said Gregg Harper, the Republican chairman of the House Administration Committee who introduced the legislation this month with the support of seven Republicans and five Democrats.

Dozens of high-profile men have been fired or have resigned from their jobs in politics, media, entertainment and business after facing allegations of sexually harassing or assaulting women and men.

Former Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Democratic Representative John Conyers and Republican Representative Trent Franks resigned from Congress following misconduct allegations. Those lawmakers have denied the allegations.

As accusations arose, the congressional Office of Compliance revealed that it had paid more than $160,000 in the last decade to settle sexual harassment or discrimination claims against lawmakers. Many congress members and activists criticized the use of public funds for “hush money.”

On Tuesday, the House passed a resolution that only governs the payouts and anti-harassment policies in the House, and it does not need Senate approval. A bill amending the workplace law for the entire Congress will now go to the Senate for a vote.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by David Gregorio