Package of Bills to Strengthen Protections for Employees
The nation-wide #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. For this reason I have joined with my fellow democratic colleagues in both the House and Senate as well as Governor Wolf by introducing a package of bills that would strengthen protections against sexual harassment, assault and discrimination for employees.
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 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.
In light of recent media coverage, 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.
My legislation will require employers covered under the PA Human Relations Act to provide interactive, biennial training for all employees with explanations and examples of different acts that would constitute unlawful discriminatory, harassing or retaliatory conduct. My bill will also mandate that employees be educated on the procedure to file a complaint with the Commission on this matter. Lastly, my legislation will require the Commission’s fair employment practices notice to include descriptions of discrimination, harassment and retaliation that violate the law with examples of different acts and behaviors constituting sexual harassment as well.
Other measures that will soon be introduced as a part of the package include:
Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Protections:
- Ban mandatory non-disclosure agreement: Forcing victims to sign non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault and harassment helps serial predators to continue their patterns of abuse. This legislation will prohibit mandatory non-disclosure agreements unless the victim voluntarily agrees to include one.
- Protect more workers: All employees should be protected, regardless of the size of the employer or the type of their job. Today, these protections are only given to those who work for an employer with at least four employees. This bill will reduce the threshold to one employee and extending protections to independent contractors, interns and full-time nannies, housekeepers and other domestic workers.
- “PA Fairness Act”: Prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Legal System Reforms:
- Extend statute of limitations: Some victims and whistleblowers are afraid to come forward. To encourage reporting, the amount of time victims have to file a discrimination or whistleblower complaint will be extended from 180 days to two years under this bill.
- Right to a Jury Trial: Victims and whistleblowers will have the option for a jury to hear their case in state court.
- Punitive Damages: Will allow victims and whistleblowers to seek punitive damages in workplace discrimination cases.
- Payment of Attorney Fees: Burdensome legal fees can discourage some victims from pursuing their case. Sexual harassment victims who win their case in state court will have the attorney fees paid by the defendant.
State Government Reforms:
- Sexual Harassment Prevention Task Force: The creation of a task force to bring together victims’ rights organizations, government officials and others to make recommendations to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplaces.
- Invest in Investigations: Governor Wolf’s 2018-19 budget has proposed to strengthen the Human Relations Commission with an additional $1.3 million to investigate discrimination and harassment cases. These resources will allow the Commission to hire an additional six employees to help process complaints.
- Standards for Lobbyists: The state Capitol must be free of sexual harassment and discrimination for employees and the public. This bill will require lobbyists to go through training for ethics and discrimination and holds them accountable for violating these protections.
Our package of bills will also build upon Governor Wolf’s efforts to combat sexual harassment and assault by creating the nation’s first “It’s On Us” campaign to combat sexual assault on campuses, which includes grants of up to $30,000 to higher education institutions. Furthermore, the Wolf Administration has launched a website about reporting workplace sexual harassment and providing information from victims’ rights groups.
These measures are about giving employers the tools they need to remove discrimination and harassment from the workplace while at the same time giving victims the resources they need to fight back if and when they encounter these types of situations.
The It’s On Us website can be found at https://www.governor.pa.gov/its-on-us/. To report workplace sexual harassment, please visit https://www.pa.gov/guides/reporting-workplace-sexual-harassment-in-pennsylvania/.
LIHEAP Extended Through Friday
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) will be accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) through this Friday, April 13. The program helps low income families pay their heating bills.
You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website (www.compass.state.pa.us). You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to the Allegheny County Assistance Office, located at 5947 Penn Avenue, 4th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits for this season are as follows:
After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account. Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
Did You Know…
Did you know that while the United States Congress created LIHEAP in 1981, the program’s roots date back to the mid-1970’s when a series of initiatives were implemented to assist low-income and elderly households meet their energy needs following the OPEC Oil Embargo?
Voter Registration Deadline
I want to remind everyone that anyone wishing to vote in the May 15 Primary Election needs to be registered no later than this Monday, April 16.
The simplest way to register is to do so online by visiting www.votespa.com. If you’re already registered but need to change your address or party affiliation, you can also do that online. You may also download a paper application or visit one of my district offices. All paper applications need to be postmarked no later than April 16 and should be mailed to:
Allegheny County Elections Division
542 Forbes Avenue, Suite 609
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-2913
Any additional questions can be directed to the Allegheny County Elections Division at 412-350-4500.
Shredding Event this Saturday
If you didn’t make it to Green Tree last week, I want to remind everyone that this Saturday, along with Rep. Deasy and Crafton and Ingram Borough officials, we are hosting another shredding event in the parking lot at Crafton Park from 9 a.m. – noon. Documents will be shredded on-site by a reputable and bonded company. Also, all papers must be loose, no binder clips or paper clips, and documents cannot be in binders.
With consumer fraud and identity theft continuing to be an issue, we are hosting these events to not only to raise awareness and promote prevention, but also to provide individuals with the opportunity to have unneeded, confidential documents destroyed free of charge. You may bring documents that contain personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.
Slot Machine Revenue Increases
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced last week that revenue from slot machines in Pennsylvania increased more than five percent in March compared with March 2017. Revenue from slot machines in March totaled more than $221 million, a 5.4 percent increase from last March’s slot machine revenue of $209.9 million. Tax revenue collected from slot machines during March totaled more than $115.5 million.
The increase in slot machine revenue in March compared with March 2017 was the largest percentage jump in month over month slot machine gross revenue since February 2016.
The state’s gaming industry employs over 18,000 people and generates approximately $1.4 billion annually in tax revenue from both slot machines and table games. For more information on gaming in Pennsylvania and to read reports from the Gaming Control Board, please visit them online at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
Southwestern PA BotsIQ is a manufacturing workforce development program disguised as a high school robotics competition. The Smart Sport is designed to provide high school students with an exciting, hands-on team experience while they learn about the pathways to a rewarding career in manufacturing. Approximately 1,000 students from over 60 high schools in the region participate in the program.
SWPA BotsIQ held preliminary competitions at local community colleges in March for teams to test their Bots and battle for seedings. The Finals Competition will take place April 13 & 14 at the California University of Pennsylvania Convocation Center. The event is free and open to the public. To learn more about SWPA BotsIQ and its upcoming competition, please visit www.botsiqpa.org.
Walk for One Promise
The Pittsburgh Promise promotes high educational aspirations among urban youth, funds scholarships for post-secondary access, and fuels a prepared and diverse regional workforce. The Pittsburgh Promise depends on the generosity of our community to ensure educational opportunities for Pittsburgh's kids.
On Saturday, April 21, 2018, you can help them provide scholarships to deserving Pittsburgh students by joining their 5K Walk for One Promise to raise awareness and essential scholarship funds. Visit www.pittsburghpromise.org/walk for more information and to sign up!
According to the Allegheny Land Trust, there are currently over 80 urban gardens and farms throughout Allegheny County that produce local, healthy fruits and vegetables.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol |
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
|Northside (Mobile Office)
Carnegie Library |
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212