Katz, Marshall & Banks partner Avi Kumin was interviewed on the national morning radio show of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about a bill passed this week by the U.S. House of Representatives that bans relationships between Congresspeople and their employees. The House bill is one of a number of congressional changes to House rules and the Congressional Accountability Act in response to recent revelations of sexual harassment of subordinates by several U.S. Congresspeople. Other recent legislative changes require Congresspeople to pay for sexual harassment settlements out of their own pocket; streamlines the process for congressional employees to report harassment or other discrimination; establishes the Office of Employee Advocacy to assist staffers with discrimination complaints; requires reporting of certain complaints to the House Ethics Committee; and loosens confidentiality restrictions on employees during the complaint process.
The House’s move to ban romantic relationships with employees is of particular interest in Australia, where it was recently revealed that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is fathering a child with his now-former staffer. Mr. Kumin explained the proposed rule as a way to avoid unhealthy byproducts of power dynamics: “Many women will feel pressured to engage in a sexual relationship that they don’t want to engage in. Others, if they say ‘no’, will feel they’re going to be retaliated against. So this bill says… ‘Just don’t do it at all’.”
Addressing skeptics of the bill, Mr. Kumin agrees that he “[doesn’t] believe the government should ever be peering into people’s bedrooms.” But as government officials “It’s normal and reasonable for the government to set rules that affect the workplace.”
Australian Minister of Parliament Cathy McGowan hopes to copy her American counterparts and outlaw similar relationships in the Parliament.
Listen to the full interview here.