Anti-harassment training has been offered at the State House for years — but it hasn't always been well-attended.
Last January — as the nation was embroiled in a national reckoning on workplace harassment and the Legislature was reckoning with concerns about what some described as a toxic workplace culture in Concord — that anti-harassment training drew only about 10 percent attendance. And some lawmakers refused to sign paperwork acknowledging they had read the State House’s anti-harassment policies in the first place.
But in one of its first major actions of the year, the House voted on Wednesday to take a harder line — making the training mandatory. At this time, it’s unclear what if any punishment will be dealt to those who skip out.
Speaking in favor of the change, New London Rep. Karen Ebel said legislators should welcome the opportunity to educate themselves on the issue.
“Who among us feels we sufficiently are sensitive to the different forms of discrimination? Not me,” Ebel said. “Why not more? Why not learn what harassment is, and what it isn’t? As a woman, I personally would appreciate my peers taking the time to listen and to learn.”
The rule change had bipartisan support, but several Republicans — like Rep. Jack Flanagan of Brookline — objected, in part because they said they already learned right from wrong.
“I was raised by a traditional Armenian mother who would always let me know when I did bad,” Flanagan said.
During his remarks against the mandatory training, Flanagan also disclosed that he was “falsely accused of sexual harassment” during the 2015-2016 legislative session. He said the report was “politically motivated” and eventually dropped — but he said it put him in a challenging position of having to prove his innocence, and the record of the original complaint lives on.
“You know all these stories that our friends from the press put out? It includes that incident,” Flanagan said. “It’s forever there, because there was a complaint.”
Most records released by House leaders related to harassment complaints have been redacted to remove the identities of both the person making the complaint and the accused.