New sexual harassment prevention bills introduced at the State House

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State lawmakers considering new sexual harassment prevention bills at State House

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Several bills addressing sexual harassment in the workplace are scheduled to be heard in the State House on Thursday.

Members of the special House commission are set to unveil eight different bills, all aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace. 

The commission was created after Rep. Teresa Tanzi came forward in October saying she was a victim of harassment while at the State House.

In a statement, Tanzi said that many of the state laws dealing with sexual harassment were enacted more than 30 years ago, and have been left mostly unchanged since then. 

“What we really need is a shift in society’s norms,” Tanzi said. “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.” 

After two months of research as part of the recently-formed Commission to Study Unlawful Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, Tanzi will introduce many of the bills herself during the house labor committee hearing Thursday. 

The first would forbid employers from requiring employees to sign nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreements.

Another would extend the timeframe to bring an action against an employer for unlawful employment practices.

Tanzi will introduce a bill that would clarify the definition of “employees” for purposes of the fair employment practices chapter, as well as a bill that would require mandatory sexual harassment training for workplaces with 50 or more employees.

One of the bills beings introduced would prohibit 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. Camille Vella-Wilkinson will introduce a bill that would require the Department of Children, Youth and Families and the Department of Education to create an age-appropriate sexual abuse and sexual awareness educational program.

Rep. Evan P. Shanley submitted a bill that 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. 

Another bill sponsored by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee would exclude the period of investigation of a discrimination case by the Human Rights Commission from counting toward the stature of limitations.

A WPRI 12 and 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 hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the State House. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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