Morales sponsors bill to prevent, address workplace bullying

 

STATE HOUSE – Rep. David Morales is sponsoring legislation to protect Rhode Islanders from workplace bullying and harassment.

The Dignity at Work Act (2021-H 6352) would require employers to take appropriate steps to prevent bullying or harassment, and would create a cause of action for those who face such abuse at work.

“All our people deserve the right to feel respected and safe at work. Sadly, there are many abusive tactics, from verbal abuse to sabotage, that are commonly deployed and tolerated in workplaces, sometimes between employees and sometimes by supervisors. Unfortunately, it is often women, people of color, and low-wage workers who are victims to this workplace abuse, which in turn, hurts their mental and emotional health. This is why it is so important that as a government, we stand up for our most vulnerable workers and pass legislation to address this unacceptable behavior. Through the Dignity at Work Act, we will urgently provide workers and employers with the resources they need to prevent and confront workplace bullying and harassment,” said Representative Morales (D-Dist. 7, Providence).

The purpose of the legislation is to recognize and protect a person’s right to dignity in the workplace, and to prevent, detect, remedy and eliminate all forms of workplace bullying and harassment that infringe upon that right. The bill provides legal remedies for workers who are targets of workplace bullying, moral, psychological or general harassment or other forms of workplace abuse.  The bill also provides an incentive for employers to prevent, detect, remedy and eliminate workplace bullying in order that such behaviors shall be addressed and eliminated before they cause harm to the targets of such behaviors.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 30 percent of American adults report having been bullied at work, and another 19 percent report having witnessed workplace bullying. Often it is the victim, not the bully, who either leaves or is fired or pressured to leave their job. The institute estimates that being a target of workplace bullying makes a worker 67 percent more likely to lose their job.

“With suicide and violent retaliation being the worst-case scenarios as a result of abuse at work, I’m afraid to be in a workplace where employees are mistreated, many of which are abruptly terminated when they try to speak up,” said Emilia DaSilva-Tavarez, State Director for the Dignity at Work Act campaign. “Over the last several years, there have been too many cases where a disgruntled and mistreated employee enters the workplace with the intent to hurt their colleagues and employer in act of retaliation. Let’s help employers understand the urgent need to address this epidemic, further exposed by the pandemic, so they can ensure safety for themselves and their employees. We need and deserve toxic-free and safe workplaces.”

Besides the profound negative effects on targets, which can include anxiety, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, stress-induced illnesses, suicide and more, bullying also harms employers. Each year, American employers lose billions of dollars in lost productivity, turnover, absenteeism, decreased morale, increased insurance premiums, workers' compensation, medical and legal costs.

The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Dist. 5, Providence), Rep. Brianna E. Henries (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), Rep. Brandon Potter (D-Dist. 16, Cranston), Rep. Rebecca Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence), Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence), Rep. Michelle E. McGaw (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton), Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol) and Rep. José F. Batista (D-Dist. 12, Providence).

Representative Morales introduced the bill in the House on May 20. Companion legislation (2021-S 0196) sponsored by Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Dist. 7, Providence) passed the Senate on March 9. Both bills are currently before the House Labor Committee.

 

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