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Hawai‘i House Adopts New Workplace Harrassment Policy

January 28, 2019, 4:33 PM HST (Updated January 28, 2019, 4:33 PM)
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The House of Representatives adopted by resolution the House Administrative and Financial Manual for the Thirtieth Legislature 2019-2020 on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. Chapter 27 of the manual contains the House’s new Workplace Harassment Policy.

“Changes were made to the House Workplace Harassment Policy to provide better direction, increase accountability, and facilitate appropriate follow-up of any complaints,” said House Speaker Scott K. Saiki (McCully, Kāheka, Kakaʻako, Downtown). “This policy will help ensure that all members, staff, and the public are protected.”

A sign detailing where to read the new policy will be posted in all members’ offices, agency offices, conference rooms and on bulletin boards.

The policy’s changes include:

  1. Changed terminology
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Ended use of “disruptive behavior.” While not an unacceptable term, it encompasses different types of workplace offenses and can be confusing, as those looking for guidance on policies regarding harassment, and especially sexual harassment, might be dissuaded from reading further.

Used terms “harassment” and “sexual harassment” instead, to provide clarity.  (See #3)

Changed “Speaker’s designee” to “Chief Clerk” to remove confusion or ambiguity as to who the Speaker’s designee is.

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Strengthened the policy statement (Sec. 27.1)

The goal is now not only to provide protection, but create an environment that is also civil and promotes public confidence in the institution and its members. The new statement also clarifies that even if something is not specifically illegal (for example, bullying could have the same effect as harassment, but is not based on a protected class), it could still result in disciplinary action.

Provided specific examples of harassment (Sec. 27.2)

Improved the ability to identify harassment in the workplace by providing multiple examples.

Provided definition and examples of bullying (Sec. 27.3)

While the House prohibited bullying in the past and included it in staff and member training, the activity was not specifically mentioned in the policy. The new policy includes a definition, examples, and specifically identifies bullying as a prohibited behavior subject to the same reporting, investigation, and resolution procedures as any other kind of harassment.

Clearly delineated sexual harassment as a prohibited behavior (Sec. 27.4)

While sexual harassment is a prohibited behavior along with other types of harassment, the new policy recognizes sexual harassment as a category that raises unique issues deserving of its own section. Not only does this change emphasize the importance of recognizing, reporting, and addressing sexual harassment, but it also makes finding information about it easier.

Provided specific examples of sexual harassment (Sec 27.4)

In order to help identify what sexual harassment is, different types of behavior (physical contact, verbal, non-verbal, quid pro quo propositioning) were identified, and specific examples of each provided.

Clarified reporting requirements and methods of reporting (Sec. 27.6)

 Clarified that whether a person is the victim of harassing behavior or is a witness to harassing behavior directed at someone else, there is an obligation to report it.

Provided separate instructions for how certain individuals (members of the Legislature, employees, and public) are to report harassment.

Indicated other options for recourse, including the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Council, the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission, and state or federal court.

Provided more information on the investigative process (Sec. 27.7)

In order to make the investigative process more transparent, the new policy specifies what is involved, including who may be interviewed, who may be consulted, and who is informed of the investigation’s results. Additionally, the new policy requires the investigation’s guidelines and estimated timeframe for completion to be given to the complainant.

Prohibited retaliation (Sec. 27.9)

 Prohibited retaliation against anyone who reports or complains of retaliation in good faith. This provision also protects any witnesses who are interviewed in the course of an investigation. Specified that any acts of retaliation or reprisal shall be investigated and disciplinary action taken if necessary.

Stressed confidentiality (Sec. 27.10)

Required all aspects of reporting, investigation, and resolution be confidential, and all individuals involved in any proceeding maintain confidentiality or face possible disciplinary action.

 Established procedures for the public (Sections 27.1(b); 27.4(b)(4); 27.5; 27.6(b)(3))

 Previously, there was no mention of whether the harassment policy applied to someone who was not a member or employee of the House. The new policy establishes that members of the public are entitled to the same harassment-free environment while visiting the House, and specifies that a member of the public may report harassment to any supervisor, the Speaker, or the Chief Clerk.

Established procedures for reporting offenses by the Speaker (Sec. 27.11)

The previous policy was silent on what happens if the cause of harassment is the Speaker. The new policy provides that harassment by the Speaker shall be reported to the Vice Speaker, who shall perform all the duties that would normally be performed by the Speaker. It also provides that the Chief Clerk reports directly to the Vice Speaker in all associated matters.

Required annual training for all House members and employees (Sec. 27.12)

The previous policy did not specify required training. Although permanent staff and members were provided training, it was not required by the policy, nor was a frequency established. The new policy requires annual training for both House members and permanent employees.

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