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Rhode Island takes a stand against sexual harassment

Lawmakers in Rhode Island have responded to the ongoing national fury over sexual harassment in the workplace with seven bills that are now ready to move forward. The overall goals of the bill are to strengthen the laws protecting victims and provide education about sexual harassment in general.

The new bills are seen as something that will enhance existing laws, rather than replace them, providing a stronger incentive for both individuals and business entities to give the issue of sexual harassment more attention and weight.

The new bills, if approved, will:

  • Broaden the definition of employees to include unpaid interns, domestic workers and volunteers so that they fall under the new protective measures
  • Give victims of sexual harassment a longer period of time to file claims in order to encourage more to come forward
  • Negate any nondisclosure agreements which would otherwise stop a victim from suing an employer over violations of their civil rights
  • Mandate schools to begin educating students on sexual awareness and sexual abuse at an age-appropriate level
  • Require employers who have 50 employees or more to train supervisors and employees both about sexual harassment
  • Suggest that employers use yearly surveys of employees to collect anonymous information about sexual harassment in their companies
  • Require new tracking procedures for incidents of sexual harassment by state departments and agencies

Unfortunately, not all businesses are on board with the measures. Lobbyists for employers pushed back against the proposed changes, stating that the measures would put costly and unnecessary burdens on employers to have to train seasonal employees, for example, about sexual harassment. However, the state intends to develop online training programs that can be used by employers for zero cost, which should alleviate the burden.

It's important to note that only about 5 percent of Rhode Island companies will be directly affected by the measures directed their way. Perhaps the greater change is the measures aimed at schools. Seeing sexual harassment as an educational and cultural problem is a step toward ending it at its roots.

Source: Providence Journal, "R.I. sexual harassment bills poised to go forward," Donita Naylor, June 07, 2018

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