Bill Decision Time is Approaching
Since the General Assembly (G.A.) returned from its spring recess the pace has quickened. This is evidenced by lengthy hearings as more legislation is being heard. Most bills are heard and held until its decision-making time on a bill’s passage or failure during the 2023 General Assembly Session. The G.A. is looking to complete its 2023 General Session by mid-June. Legislation continues to be introduced but at a much smaller pace. However, this does not deter the continued introduction of bills offensive to the business sector.
One of the most offensive bills proposes to establish workplace bullying prevention standards. S-821 is the latest and perhaps the worst edition of the former “workplace bullying act”. This bill opens by stating that all employees are entitled to the right to a physically safe work environment and a psychologically safe workplace. No problem with that! However, the term employee is loosely defined to include obviously full and part-time employees but then adds to the definition, independent contractors and temporary employees. All employers have a duty to monitor, discourage, prevent, and address all occurrences or allegations of psychological abuse in the workplace.
The definition of “Psychological Abuse” could not be more broadly defined and includes, but is not limited to: abusive gestures, bullying, mobbing (an interpersonal abuse system); psychological abuse means mentally provocative harassment, unethical and unprofessional behavior such as exclusion, marginalization, spreading of lies, discipline, behind closed doors verbal abuse or offensive gestures, frequent requests for work below competitive level, inconsistent enforcement of rules, assigning long term tasks beyond the employee’s duties without compensation, ignoring, persistent criticism, changing work conditions or duties, the employer being non-responsive and/or prolonged response to employee complaints of psychological abuse behavior, failure to adequately address employee complaints, changes that could jeopardize future career opportunities and so on. These and others are included in the proposed legislation.
Employers must have an independent third-party reporting option for employees and this includes independent contractors. This bill would require a quarterly reporting process, creates a fund to pay for state agency responses to violations, and also requires employers to pay a premium like workers’ compensation.
Another bill of concern is S-430, which includes proposed changes to the employers’ statement of earning responsibilities for employees. Some of the added employer responsibilities include deductible explanations in the employee’s preferred language and providing a mini “employee handbook” to each employee in his/her primary language. I have been told that more than one out of five Rhode Island households’ primary language is other than English and that there are forty-one primary languages spoken in our state.
One bill continues to bear watching because of the potential long-term impact. It is S-770 and pertains to Environmental Justice (EJ). Briefly, S-770 requires the Department of Management (DEM) to create such EJ Zones and any activity or development therein would have to satisfy DEM and Coastal Resources Management Council (CMRC) environmental impact standards.