PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Seven bills resulting from state Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi’s #MeToo moment in the Rhode Island General Assembly are poised to move out of the House Labor Committee after a hearing Thursday.
Tanzi, a Democrat who represents parts of Narragansett and South Kingstown, formed a commission to prevent workplace sexual harassment, educate society about what is and isn’t acceptable, and toughen protections for those whose only choice has been to suffer in silence.
Commission member Wendy Becker, chairwoman of the Bachelor of Social Work program at Rhode Island College, testified for all seven bills Thursday, saying: “Rhode Island laws are not strong enough to provide a deterrence, both for potential harassers and for business practices of companies that may already not be inclined to take this seriously.”
Tanzi and other sponsors said the commission worked hard to find a middle ground between the needs of the business community and those of the workers.
In general terms, the seven bills would:
Require the state to provide and schools to teach age-appropriate classes about sexual abuse and sexual awareness.
Give victims a wider window of opportunity to file a claim.
Require businesses of 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training for employees and more training for supervisors, and encourage employers to conduct annual surveys in which employees could anonymously report harassment behavior.
Void nondisclosure agreements that prevent an employee from taking an employer to court for civil rights violations.
Include more people, such as domestic workers, unpaid interns and volunteers, in the definition of employee.
Suspend the clock on the statute of limitations for as long as a year while the R.I. Commission on Human Rights investigates a case.
Require state agencies and departments, including the legislative branch, to keep track of violations.
Rep. Aaron Regunberg, a member of the labor panel, said the Department of Labor and Training says only about 5 percent of businesses in Rhode Island have 50 or more employees.