Joe Souki left the Hawaii House of Representatives more than three weeks ago, but the chamber’s woefully inadequate policy on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct remains.
In fact, the House hasn’t changed either its rules or administrative manual — both approved before the #MeToo movement exploded — and it’s not clear whether the governing documents will be updated before the end of the 2018 session May 3.
That’s deplorable, as House policy must reflect our times, including Souki’s admittance earlier this month of sexual harassment that forced his resignation.
Amazingly, the House currently requires complaints to be made to the speaker, giving a potential harassment victim no place to turn if it’s the speaker who is the abuser. Souki was himself a former speaker.
The House Rules are inadequate in other ways. They mention the words “sexual harassment” just once, while the House Administrative and Financial Manual mentions the words only twice — and it’s classified under policies on reporting and eliminating “disruptive behavior.”
Admirably, the House manual does state that the chamber will not tolerate sexual harassment, and that harassment includes behavior “that involves the conditioning of employment or its benefits on sexual favors, as well as harassment involving conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile, disruptive, or offensive working environment.”
But that’s all the House rules and manual say about sexual harassment. The rules make mention of addressing “misconduct” but only once lists misconduct that is sexual in nature.
And this is the year 2018, mind you.
The Senate Rules mention misconduct only a few times, too, and do not mention sexual harassment at all. But the Administrative and Financial Manual of the Senate lists the words “sexual harassment” no less than 39 times and includes an entire section titled Harassment Policy.
The Senate manual, which dates to 2015-2016, goes further than the House in defining sexual harassment, noting that it is conduct that is also “unwelcome by the person to whom it is directed” and unreasonably interferes with their performance of elected or job duties of the person. Sexual harassment is also defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
The Senate policy also is also built on the foundation of existing laws and statutes.
“Harassment on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, color, ancestry, disability, marital status, or arrest or court record is a form of misconduct which undermines the work environment,” the policy states. “Such harassment is a violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act or Chapter 378, Hawaii Revised Statutes, or both.”
The Senate manual states that harassment can occur between Senate members and staff, between supervisors and Senate subordinates, or with vendors or lobbyists.
“Harassment takes many forms,” the manual says. “It includes, but is not limited to, the following types of behaviors”:
(A) offensive nonverbal behavior such as leering, making obscene gestures or suggestive or insulting sounds with or without implied or expressed employment related consequences; (2) verbal threats, insults, repeated suggestive or derogative comments, or sexist, racist, or other remarks about a person or the person’s body, clothing, sexual, or other activities; or (3) physical behavior including patting, pinching, or unnecessary touching.
Most importantly, the Senate manual offers a resolution process for harassment complaints. Employees who feel victimized can complain directly to the offender, or to their immediate supervisor, or to a higher level supervisor, or to the Senate president, or to an affirmative action officer designated by the president, or go to the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, or go to court.
“No disciplinary action taken by the Senate shall preclude the aggrieved employee or member from seeking other remedies,” the Senate policy concludes.
By contrast, in the House the recourse for sexual harassment complaints is … the House speaker. There is no explicit description of what happens if the speaker is the accused in question, although the House clerk said the vice speaker could get involved.
The Time Is Now
House leaders say they want time to work on their sexual harassment policies during the interim between sessions, which means new rules might not be on the books until January. That’s absurd.
The House should adopt the Senate policy on harassment right now. After all, the National Conference of State Legislatures has recognized the Hawaii Senate’s policy as one of five nationwide that meets the NCSL’s recommended criteria for harassment policies.
Both chambers can then work on amending the policies over the next seven months.
The Senate policy isn’t perfect — one state senator pointed out that it doesn’t provide a third-party option for complaints. But it would be an unconscionable, even cruel disservice to potential victims of sexual harassment to do anything less.
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