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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

#me at work

Tanzi introduces bill creating panel to study workplace sexual harassment

Related imageRep. Teresa Tanzi has introduced legislation to create a legislative study commission to review existing state laws and recent federal policy recommendations that are meant to protect against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The bill (2018-H 7678) developed out of a response to the #metoo movement, and subsequent public discussion about the prevalence of sexual harassment.

“As the #metoo movement quickly grew this fall, it created a long overdue public discussion of the fact that many have silently tolerated and accepted behavior in society that is completely unacceptable and, in fact, harmful to individuals and workplace productivity. This isn’t a problem that is confined to any one sector or only some workplaces. As we learned from the many victims who have shared their stories, it is far more prevalent than many believed. The original laws and policies that have been put in place to stop it have been in place for nearly 30 years and are ripe for review,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett).

After Representative Tanzi publicly told her own story about inappropriate interactions with a fellow legislator, she met with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who agreed to institute anti-harassment training for legislators and staff, and to the formation of a legislative commission to examine sexual harassment laws and policies.

Speaker Mattiello is a cosponsor of the legislation.

Under the legislation, the 11-member commission will include five members of the House of Representatives, of whom one shall be an active member of the Rhode Island Bar Association; the attorney general, the executive director of the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, the associate director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity of the Department of Administration and the president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association or their designees; a member of the LGBTQ community and a member of the business community with expertise in human resources practices.

Under the bill, which was introduced yesterday, the commission is to complete its work and report to the House of Representatives by May 17 and would expire June 7.

Representative Tanzi said she plans for the commission to review recent federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommendations and look at best practices around the country with regard to training so people understand what constitutes harassment and what to do about it, with the goal of encouraging bystanders to intervene, and empowering victims to report harassment while protecting them from retaliation. 

A second goal is to review laws other states have enacted and make recommendations to update and strengthen Rhode Island laws.