Sexual harassment bills introduced in House

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A set of bills aimed at preventing workplace sexual harassment and discrimination have been introduced in the Rhode Island House of Representatives by members of a legislative commission that studied the issue last year.

Led by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), the commission studied existing laws and identified areas for improvement, and drew on expert testimony taken by the commission. The bills each address situations that came up in the commission’s discussions.

“I hear from my constituents and other people regularly that they want sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace to be addressed. This is a serious problem that still affects people every single day, in workplaces everywhere,” Tanzi said. “Our laws dealing with sexual harassment haven’t changed much in 30 years, and they aren’t effective at preventing or addressing it. We need updated, more specific laws, which will help educate people about what is appropriate and what should not be tolerated. Ultimately, what we really need is a shift in society’s norms, but updated laws are the beginning and will protect people and provide justice.”

A WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll conducted in 2018 found that 85 percent of Rhode Island voters believe sexual harassment is a serious problem in society today.

The bills include:

A bill sponsored by Tanzi to forbid employers from requiring employees, as a condition of obtaining or retaining employment, to execute a nondisclosure agreement or non-disparagement agreement.

A bill submitted by Rep. Evan P. Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick), which 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.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett), which would exclude the period of investigation of a discrimination case by the Human Rights Commission from counting toward the statute of limitations.

A bill submitted by Tanzi that would expand and clarify the definition of “employees” for purposes of the fair employment practices chapter.

A bill sponsored by Shanley to extend the timeframe within which to bring an action for an unlawful employment practice.

A bill introduced by Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) to mandate sexual harassment training for employees and supervisors in workplaces of 50 or more employees. It would also recommend an annual climate survey for employers.

A bill submitted by Tanzi to 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.

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