Media Coverage: Workplace rules need updating

By Linda Meric, 9to5 National Executive Director
March 16, 2014
Originally posted in The Pueblo Chieftain

“A lot of sexual references. Masturbation. A lot of sexual comments; biting of the lips; licking of the lips.” That is what 9to5 member Rachel, a 17-year-old working at a franchise sandwich shop in Aurora, testified about the harassment — along with physical assault — she endured on the job.

Many working women in Colorado like Rachel face sexual harassment on the job, but haven’t had access to sufficient remedies under state law to seek justice. The same goes for workers facing illegal discrimination or harassment based on age, race, sexual orientation or other factors.

This is despite the fact that Colorado was one of the first states in the nation to establish a civil rights agency and take a stand against workplace discrimination. Protecting workers from discrimination has been one of our state’s core values for more than half a century. No matter the size of your employer, decisions about your employment should be based on the quality of your work, your skills and effort, not on your gender, race or other characteristics that have nothing to do with your job.

Colorado has fallen woefully behind, and until last year was one of only eight states that hadn’t updated laws to give victims of illegal discrimination the right to seek justice and be made whole for their damages. Passed and signed into law last year, Colorado House Bill 1136 will solve this problem by modernizing our state law when it goes into effect in 2015.

HB 1136 will protect Colorado workers and jobs, despite the handwringing in the pages of The Pueblo Chieftain recently. All of the evidence refutes opponents’ claims that the sky will fall and small businesses will suffer.

Forty-two other states modernized their laws before Colorado, and they haven’t seen increased legal caseloads, costs to employers or job loss. In fact, when federal law adopted similar changes in 1991, there was a 20.7 percent rate of job growth between 1993 and 2001.

And although many of the states that previously updated their laws allow discriminated-against employees to seek unlimited financial damages, Colorado’s HB 1136 included modest caps on the damages that workers can seek, as well as a number of other protections specifically for small businesses.

When it is enacted next year, HB 1136 will hold the few bad apple employers accountable while leveling the playing field for the majority of good Colorado employers who treat their workers fairly.

This law is about creating and saving Colorado jobs – so that an employee being harassed or discriminated against can get the problem stopped and stay employed. Even businesses agree that it’s not about increasing lawsuits. Fear of lawsuits was 71st out of 75 concerns expressed by small businesses in a poll conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business.

In this recovering economy, no one can afford to lose a job because of discrimination or harassment — that’s why HB 1136 was supported by business and worker organizations alike, including the Pueblo Latino Chamber of Commerce, 9to5 National Association of Working Women, the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado AFL-CIO, in addition to faith, community and legal groups.

HB 1136 will preserve, not cost, Colorado jobs, and should be embraced by all Coloradans.

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