Before 1995, the United States Congress and its associated agencies in the legislative branch were exempt from the various civil rights, labor, and workplace safety and health laws that protected employees who worked in the private sector and in the federal government. In 1995, the 104th United States Congress passed the Congressional Accountability Act (“CAA”), in which the U.S. Congress provided necessary protections in the workplace by making various employment and workplace safety laws applicable to congressional employees, including the following:
- Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Non-exempt employees must get paid at least the current minimum wage, and certain employees are entitled to additional overtime pay if they work over 40 hours per week.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employees are protected from harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin with respect to all terms and conditions of their employment, which include hiring, compensation, promotion, treatment on the job, and termination.
- Disability Discrimination. The CAA applies laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in all employment practices. An employer may not discriminate against an employee with a disability because of that employee’s disability, nor may the employer deny the employee a reasonable workplace accommodation that would allow the employee to perform his or her job.
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. This Act prohibits age-based workplace discrimination against an employee age 40 and over.
- Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. The FMLA provides an entitlement of up to twelve weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during any 12-month period for certain family and medical reasons.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. This Act requires workplaces to furnish to each of its employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.
- Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute. Certain legislative branch employees have the right to join (or choose not to join) a union and collectively bargain with an employing office without fear of penalty or reprisal.
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988. With limited exceptions, current and prospective employees cannot be required to take polygraph tests.
- Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989. Employees are entitled to be given advance notice of at least 60 days of an office closing or mass layoff.
- Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. The CAA applies certain rights and protections to employees performing service in the “uniformed services,” including protection from discrimination, the right to be reemployed after a service obligation ends, and the right to certain benefits while performing services and upon the completion of services.
The CAA also prohibits intimidation, reprisal, or discrimination against an employee who has opposed any practice made unlawful by the CAA or has “initiated proceedings, made a charge, or testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in a hearing or other proceeding under this Act.”
For purposes of the CAA, an employee is defined as an employee of (a) the House of Representatives; (b) the Senate; (c) the Capitol Guide Service; (d) the Capitol Police; (e) the Congressional Budget Office; (f) the Office of the Architect of the Capitol; (g) the Office of the Attending Physician; (h) the Office of Compliance; or (i) the Office of Technology Assessment.
Complaining Of Violations Of The CAA
Congress created the Office of Compliance to enforce the workplace protection laws that the CAA extended to Congress. Violations of employees’ rights under the CAA must be filed with the Office of Compliance within 180 days of the alleged violation. The filing of a complaint is typically followed by a 30-day counseling period, after which the employee may choose to proceed to mediation. In the event that a mediated settlement does not occur, employees may either proceed with an administrative hearing or file suit in federal district court, both of which must be initiated within 90 days of the employee’s receipt of notice that mediation has ended. If an employee chooses to file suit in federal court, the standard rules and laws that apply to litigation in the federal courts would apply. In the event that an employee chooses to proceed with an administrative hearing and is dissatisfied with the decision of the Hearing Officer, the employee may request review by the Board of the Office of Compliance.