Legislative board approves update of workplace harassment policy

September 9, 2018

The Nebraska Legislature’s Executive Board OK’d an update Friday of its 26-year-old workplace harassment policy.

The #MeToo movement and other issues that have come about in recent years pushed the Legislature to scrutinize and update the policy. A number of other state legislatures have done the same.

The policy would cover senators, staffers, lobbyists and others, including constituents, visitors, members of the news media and employees of other government agencies. Those who are not senators or legislative employees could report harassment to the state ombudsman, attorney to the executive board or the affirmative action officer of the Legislature.

The policy says anti-harassment training is required at least once every two years for senators and employees, and a report of those who have taken the training would be published in the Legislative Journal at the end of the two-year session.

Sen. Tyson Larson said senators can’t be required to take the training and that they shouldn’t be shamed for not taking it.

According to the policy, it’s a violation for any senator to harass or knowingly permit workplace harassment. A senator or supervisor who has firsthand knowledge of harassment is required to report it. And an employee is encouraged to report any harassment to a senator or division director.

Workplace harassment includes inflammatory comments, jokes, printed material, social media content, and innuendo based on race, color, religion, age, gender, disability, national origin or sexual orientation.

Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or verbal or physical sexual conduct.

Complaints would be addressed informally at first, then formally if the problem isn’t solved. If an allegation is formally substantiated against a senator, a special personnel panel would recommend action that could include a reprimand, censure or expulsion by the full Legislature.

Speaker Jim Scheer said the policy was a great start, maybe not perfect, but better than the one the Legislature has had since 1992.

“At least it gives us something approved to use at least at the start of the next session,” he said.

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