Today, the final report of the Workplace Harassment Commission became public.
After some public and private complaints about the behavior of legislators, the President of the Senate, Mike Miller, and the Speaker of the House, Michael Busch, convened a commission to study the problem and recommend upgrades to the harassment problem in the legislature. I was honored to be a Commissioner on this important study.
Several factors made the problem thornier than in private or public sector jobs. First of all, legislators are not hired by a Human Resources Department; they are elected by their local constituents. The voters hire them, and two or four years later can remove them from office. Therefore they have fewer structural constraints on their workplace demeanor. The investigations into harassing behavior were performed by high-ranking members of the legislature, so the possibility of conflicts of interest arose.
Staffers of Maryland legislators are often young people in their first job, and have little experience navigating difficult interpersonal situations. Some staffers refrained from complaining about harassment from lobbyists or other legislators because they did not want to cause trouble for their own boss.
After public hearings and behind the scenes research, the Commission released its report. The recommendations are worth considering in all employment contexts. The central takeaway is that reforming the culture of a workplace is key to avoiding sexual and other forms of harassment. And to get there, dynamic in-person training, empowerment of bystanders, effective investigations, and enforcement of anti-retaliation provisions are critical.
The Commission makes several recommendations for legislative reforms, some of which would greatly increase the rights of employees to pursue remedies for harassment or bullying.