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Harassment, discrimination claims increase for Congressional employees

An annual report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Office of Compliance (OOC) has found that, although workplace safety issues are handled well in the Congressional workplace, harassment, discrimination and hostile work environment complaints have been increasing over the last five years.

Experts are concerned about the increase of these types of allegations. Interestingly, Congressional officers are not required by law to post information concerning workers rights or require employee training. The result is that many Congressional employees have limited or no knowledge of their employment rights.

The OOC report found that the number of harassment, discrimination and hostile work environment complaints slightly decreased over the last year. The slight decrease, however, did not make for an overall decrease in complaints over the last five years.

In 2010, there were 105 formal requests for counseling, and in 2009 there were 108. Those numbers come out of approximately 30,000 Congressional employees. Since 2006, counseling reports have nearly doubled, according to the OCC. Most of those reports were made to U.S. Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol.

Overall, the House of Representatives had a 16 percent higher number of employee complaints in 2010, while only around 3 percent of employees in the Senate filed reports. But some feel those numbers do not reflect workplace reality, since party loyalty likely keeps some employees from filing complaints.

Part of the reason for the increase was that many of the reports over the last year contained numerous allegations, leading to an overall increase in discrimination and harassment complaints. Those complaints included discrimination based on race, age, sex, national origin, disability, and religion.

Source: ABC News, "Harassment and Discrimination on the Rise Among Congressional Employees?," Sunlen Miller, Sep 29, 2011.