Commission Finds Many Workers Lack Protection Under State Law

Jun 6, 2018

Interns, volunteers, and nannies are all either unmentioned or specifically excluded from harassment and other protections under Rhode Island's Fair Employment Practices Act. 

Language defining employees in the statute also excludes anyone working at companies of four people or fewer. 

The finding comes from a commission of lawmakers and community leaders assembled this year to revisit the state’s sexual harassment and workplace laws, some of which were introduced more than 30 years ago.

The commission formed amid a national conversation about workplace harassment, and was led by South County Representative Teresa Tanzi, who publicly shared her own account of harassment at the Statehouse last year.

Tanzi has introduced legislation that would expand fair employment protections to unpaid workers such as volunteers, and people considered “domestic workers,” which include nannies and other caregivers.

“It’s a very vulnerable population as it is,” said Tanzi. “You’re kind of isolated, you’re working in a very close environment. And I think if anything, those individuals deserve more protection in certain ways.”

A second bill introduced at the General Assembly would mandate sexual harassment training every two years for employees at companies of 50 people or more. Tanzi said she expects some pushback on the proposal from business leaders.

“I get it, they’re going to see it as one more thing on their list of things that they’ll need to do to comply with state law,” said Tanzi. “We just kept coming back to the fact that this was the number one recommendation by every expert that came before us.”