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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Trying to turn talk into policy

Sexual harassment commission members submit bills

Image result for sexual harassmentMembers of the House commission studying sexual harassment laws have filed numerous bills aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

The commission, led by Chairwoman Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) worked swiftly over the past two months to study existing laws and identify areas for improvement.

Drawing on the expert testimony taken by the commission, the bills each address situations that came up in the commission’s discussions.

“Our laws dealing with sexual harassment were enacted over 30 years ago, and then were mostly left unchanged in the decades since. As anyone can see from the number of people who say they experience sexual harassment, inappropriate comments or have felt they have to stay silent about such behavior in order to get along at work or in society, our existing laws haven’t really been very effective. What we really need is a shift in society’s norms. But updated, more effective laws would go a long way toward getting us there, both by helping to protect people and provide justice, and by educating people about what’s inappropriate and what they should not tolerate,” said Chairwoman Tanzi, who also sponsored the legislation establishing the commission earlier this year.

A WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll conducted in February found that 85 percent of Rhode Island voters believe sexual harassment is a serious problem in society today.
The bills introduced by committee members include:

·         2018-H 8278 — Sponsored by Representative Tanzi, this bill would forbid employers from requiring employees, as a condition of obtaining or retaining employment, to execute a nondisclosure agreement or non-disparagement agreement.

·         2018-H 8281 — Submitted by Rep. Evan P. Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick), this bill would enhance a reporting requirement for state agencies and departments for violations of the fair employment practices chapter and the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action chapter. 

·         2018-H 8280 — Sponsored by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), this bill would exclude the period of investigation of a discrimination case by the Human Rights Commission from counting toward the statute of limitations.

·         2018-H 8279 — Submitted by Representative Tanzi, this bill would expand and clarify the definition of “employees” for purposes of the fair employment practices chapter.

·         2018-H 8276 — Sponsored by Representative Tanzi, this act would extend the timeframe within which to bring an action for an unlawful employment practice.

·         2018-H 8275 — Submitted by Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick), this act would require the Department of Children, Youth and Families and the Department of Education to identify or develop a program of age-appropriate sexual abuse and sexual awareness education.

·         2018-H 8277 — Introduced by Representative Tanzi, this bill would mandate sexual harassment training for employees and supervisors of employers of 50 or more employees. It would also recommend an annual climate survey for the same size employers.

·         2018-H 7888 — This bill, which Representative Tanzi introduced earlier this session, would prohibit employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or employees, from directly or indirectly committing any act declared to be an unlawful employment practice, and would state that individuals, including individual employees, could be held personally liable for such conduct.

·         Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence) has announced his intention to file a bill to mandate that applicants seeking state funds, state contracts or state tax incentives in excess of $50,000 disclose on their applications the number of discrimination cases and settlements, if any, pending or concluded before the Human Rights Commission or in court within five years of the date of their application.