As the nation confronts accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men, South Carolina must establish more consistent policies to protect state employees.
State agencies are not required to have anti-harassment policies, and there are no consistent rules across agencies for employees to file complaints. Agencies can create their own rules based on guidelines from the state Department of Administration, but no one is sure how many of the state's 100-pluncies have policies.
Agency heads can begin to address these inconsistencies, but there also needs to be leadership from the governor's office and lawmakers. The policies should be consistent across all state agencies to help ensure the same rules apply to everyone.
The male-dominated legislature also must continue to work on its policies.
The Senate, spurred by the flood of news reports on the issue, is trying to adopt a "clear and robust" policy, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman told Post and Courier reporter Seanna Adcox. Leatherman, who has led the Senate since 2014, said he hasn't received any complaints about harassment against senators or staff members.
The House has been more proactive in recent years, updating its anti-harassment policies after Jay Lucas became speaker in 2014, and forcing out two members over harassment accusations. New House members — four men and three women — recently underwent training on the chamber's no-harassment policy. Veteran members will get a reminder when they return to the Statehouse.
That's the right move for a body that's had its share of issues over the years, where the culture once was described as being similar to a hormone-filled high school or fraternity house. It's a place where an anonymous memo once suggested that female pages should dress scantily. Clearly something needed to change, and Lucas deserves praise for acting before sexual harassment became a national top-of-mind issue.
There are traditional options available to state employees who want to report bad behavior. They can file complaints with the state Human Affairs Commission or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They also can report complaints to their own agency, even if it doesn't have a policy.
But a consistent policy would make it easier to report harassment and emphasize the importance of protecting state employees. A new Senate policy, and a continued emphasis on the issue in the House, would show that bad behavior won't be tolerated in the Statehouse either.
The House also is taking steps to help sexual harassment victims in the private sector. Democratic Rep. Beth Bernstein, a Columbia attorney, prefiled a bill Dec. 13 that would stop employers from forcing alleged victims into arbitration, a practice that can keep accusations private. The bill, called the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act, would give victims the option of making their claims public by going to court.
The bill is co-sponsored by Republicans Gary Clary of Clemson, Raye Felder of Fort Mill and Anne Thayer of Anderson, and Democrats Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster, Will Wheeler III of Bishopville and James Smith of Columbia, who is running for governor. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who also is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, had some good advice for everyone that could have come straight from your mother.
"All men should be gentlemen. Keep your mouth shut and your hands to yourself. It's really not that complicated."
This editorial is from The Post and Courier of Charleston via The Associated Press.