Home > Senator Fontana's News & Views: April 2, 2019

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Package of Bills to Curb Workplace Harassment

Senator Wayne FontanaLast week I joined Governor Wolf and my fellow House and Senate Democrats to reintroduce a package of bills aimed to curb harassment in the workplace. This legislation is intended to address the all-too-common workplace harassment employees face in the Commonwealth and nationally. The #MeToo movement has provided victims the opportunity to bring their stories forward and educate the public on the pervasiveness of this issue. Now is the time to turn this momentum into action to foster safe, equitable, and accountable workplaces where jobs and promotions are not leveraged for sexual favors or where people are shamed for their background or identity.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act requires the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to issue a fair employment practices notice to employers to post in the workplace for purposes of providing employees with information regarding workplace harassment and discrimination. However, the Act does not require that the notice include explanations or examples of the types of behaviors and comments that constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment under the law.  The Act also fails to require employers to provide interactive training regarding discrimination, harassment and retaliation to all employees and supervisors.
Many advocates and law firms specializing in workplace harassment policies suggest that in order to improve workplace harassment policies and employer-employee safety, employers should provide better training and notices regarding what constitutes discrimination and harassment.  By having more thorough explanations and case examples, staff will better understand which acts would constitute a violation.
For this reason I have once again reintroduced Senate Bill 498 (SB498) this session, a bill that would require employers covered under the Pa. Human Relations Act to provide interactive, training for all employees with explanations and examples of different acts that would constitute unlawful discriminatory, harassing or retaliatory conduct. Furthermore, my legislation will require the Commission’s fair employment practices notice to include descriptions of discrimination, harassment and retaliation that violate the law.

The other bills that will soon be reintroduced to help end workplace harassment include:

  • Sen. Tartaglione – Under the current law of the Human Relations Act, independent contractors are limited to individuals that have a license from the Bureau of Occupational and Professional Affairs and unpaid interns are not considered employees. This bill will expand protection from discrimination to all independent contractors and unpaid interns.
  • Sen. Brewster – Requires lobbyists to receive biennial training on the prevention of discrimination and harassment as a condition of initial and ongoing registration with the Department of State.
  • Sen. Williams - Currently, domestic workers employed in a home or personal residence in Pennsylvania are exempted from critical protections which cover the majority of working residents. This bill would extend the Act to include domestic workers.
  • Sen. Haywood – The bill amends the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law to ensure that all whistleblowers can avoid arbitration by providing them with a right to a jury trial as well as will have up to two years to pursue a claim, instead of the current 6 months. A successful whistleblower may also recover punitive damages for any unlawful, or reckless acts of retaliation or discrimination.
  • Sen. Farnese - Expands the Human Relations Act to include coverage from four employees to one employee, extends the statute of limitations for filing a complaint, adds the right to a jury trial, provides for punitive damages in the case of malice or reckless indifference, and lastly provides the presumption of attorney fees.
  • Sen. Blake - Requires employers to adopt written policies and procedures for preventing harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
  • Sen. Farnese – Under current law, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and accommodations based on an individual’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, education status, handicap, or disability. This legislation would add an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to the list of classifications protected.

I am pleased to take part in this bicameral effort to put a stop to workplace harassment. The General Assembly needs to make it clear that there is no place for any form of harassment – and there will be no tolerance for it either. With this legislative package, we are taking strong steps that both send a strong message and back it up with practical changes to how harassment can be prevented, how it should be handled and how victims should be treated. Strengthened by the growing momentum of the #Metoo movement, I am confident we can rally bipartisan support for all these proposals and get a comprehensive workplace harassment package onto the governor’s desk.

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