The Senate Executive Department and Administration Committee (ED&A) will consider HB591, retained from last year, next Thursday, January 9 in an executive session. HB591 is an SEA member driven bill that prohibits the abuse of state employees in the workplace.
As a reminder to you, the bill was drafted to fill a void. Currently there is no policy or law in place that protects employees from intimidation, ridicule, or harassment, unless it can be demonstrated that the negative treatment was motivated by race; creed; color; age; marital status; familial status; physical or mental disability; or national origin; or the harassment was of a sexual nature. Unless the victim happens to fall into one of the aforementioned categories – they are out of luck and fair game for a workplace bully. You may read more about this bill at links that can be accessed here.
Last session, numerous brave employees testified before the ED&A Committee regarding the harsh and unfair treatment they had suffered in the workplace at the hands of colleagues and/or supervisors. They also testified regarding the serious consequences they suffered including numerous physical and mental health conditions as a result of the bullying. The testimony was heartfelt and compelled the Committee to retain the bill to allow them time to work on some language changes. The bill had previously passed in the NH House.
Retaining or re-referring the bill means the committee must take some action on the bill during the first few work days of the new legislative session. At this time we are attempting to take the pulse of the committee.
A number of NH department heads drafted a letter of strong opposition to the bill last year, saying it would cause “unwarranted and unlimited liability to the State by creating a new and unique cause of action. The SEA and other proponents of the bill answered with a rebuttal that you can see here.
It is important to note that Governor Hassan has just launched a “Respect in the Workplace” initiative, which is a strong signal that she recognizes and believes workplace bullying within state service is very real and of grave concern. We thank Governor Hassan for taking the issue on. The initiative involves employees and supervisors accessing respective online presentations that point out the value of building and maintaining positive, professional workplaces. The presentation also identifies resources that may be useful in this area. Once the individual worker or supervisor completes watching the presentation, he or she is directed to download, print and sign a certificate of completion, which is to be filed with the appropriate Human Resources office.
While this new initiative is a positive step, it does not adequately provide the legal recourse that a law, such as HB591 would. By establishing this new law, state employees who are victims of workplace bullying will have a legal and binding pathway to help them feel that justice has been served. There is still a very strong need for HB591 to pass.
Watch your SEA Notices next Monday. We will have specific information regarding how you can help with this important issue.