Testify to help move workplace abuse legislation forward in Rhode Island

Just weeks ago, the Rhode Island Senate passed workplace abuse legislation. We just got word the legislation, House Bill 6087, which would establish a cause of action against employers and employees for workplace bullying, harassment, and other abusive conduct, will go up in front of the House Labor Committee. Rhode Island is the second state in the nation to pass the full bill in the state’s Senate, and we need your help in getting the bill through the House so it can become the law of the land.

TODAY! Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Room 203 – State House

Share your workplace abuse story at the hearing
Draft your story in one page:
Where did you work and what did you do?
How did the bullying begin? What tactics were used?
How did you feel?
How did it escalate?
How did your employer react (or not react)?
What was the impact on you?
What was the impact on the organization?
Why do you want workplace bullying legislation to pass?
What advice do you have for others going through bullying at work?

Dos and don’t of speaking at the hearing
DO speak about your experience. 
Speak from the heart about how workplace abuse affected you, especially how it harmed your health and affected your personal relationships. Remember that legislators want to hear from you.

DO keep your testimony to under two minutes. Stick to the facts and to your own experience and keep it brief. It’s difficult to summarize months or years of abuse into two minutes, but it’s important to do so.

DO stick to our talking points. Refresh yourself on the main points we want to get across:

  1. Accountability, not just training, is what will change behavior.
  2. There will be a high threshold for recovery.
  3. The bill is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of a hostile work environment for sexual harassment.
  4. The bill enters the picture only when the abusive behaviors have become severe and harmful.
  5. Employers can minimize their liability exposure by acting preventively and responsively toward abuse.
  6. The bill focuses on addressing the abusive behavior, not killing jobs.
  7. Many workplace abuse targets already lose jobs, choosing their health over daily suffering.

DO visit your state rep and senator that day. Before or after the hearing, stop by your legislators’ offices and ask them to support the Healthy Workplace Bill. That’s one State Rep and one State Senator. Try to make an appointment with them beforehand. If you can only speak with an aide, do that. Aides will pass along information to legislators. The State House is hard to navigate, so write down the State House room numbers before that day, bring them with you, and don’t be afraid to ask someone how to get to those offices. Bring a copy of each of these fact sheets (two of each, one for each legislator) to leave with your legislators:
Fact sheet
Myths sheet

DO email this fact sheet to your legislators if you can’t make it that day. Your legislators want to hear from you.

DON’T mention abuser’s names or workplaces — unless asked. The goal is to pass the law, not to out a boss or workplace.

DON’T feel like you have to testify to show support. If you’re not ready to speak under two minutes about your experience, don’t feel obligated to speak. You may not be ready, and that’s ok. Showing your support by attending is much appreciated whether or not you speak.

About the bill
Workplace abuse legislation would allow targets of severe abuse at work — verbal abuse and sabotage, for example (think domestic abuse but at work) — to sue their employers. Finally, we’d hold employers accountable for abuse they generally ignore or make worse — and give them incentives to address it in the first place.

Because the worst of the transgressions already are illegal, lawmakers seem satisfied to call for culprits to be fired or to step down and for corporate and industry leaders to promise that they’ll crack down on offenders more quickly in the future. But legislators can do more to address the problem. They can make workplace bullying illegal. Too many corporate leaders find it expedient to look the other way when bosses — especially ones they deem indispensable — systematically intimidate and humiliate underlings. Bullies who believe that their whims matter more than other people’s dignity often don’t see why their sexual impulses shouldn’t be just as indulged.”
— LA Times’ David Lieberman

Sadly, those who suffer most from abuse of power are those not often in power: women and non-White workers, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). It’s a loophole in the law that prevents those who don’t have power from ever getting it.The worst industries for abuse: education, healthcare, government, and other non-profits. 

Workplace abuse: the basics
Workplace abuse is a widespread problem. The WBI estimates that 60.4 million U.S. workers have been affected by it. That’s 1.5 times the population of California and four times more common than sexual harassment and racial discrimination at work.

Employees suffer:

  • They begin feeling demoralized after repeated attacks (false accusations, exclusion, withholding necessary resources, behind-the-back sabotage and defamation, put-downs, excessively harsh criticism, and unreasonably heavy work demands, for example) and start to doubt their ability to succeed at employment elsewhere.
  • After months and years of abuse, they can experience a host of stress-related health problems including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, migraines, fatigue, muscle pain, and digestive issues.
  • They’re forced to choose between their health and a paycheck and health insurance.
  • Some lose their entire careers, giving up their investments in education.
  • They feel isolated after their family and friends feel unable to help, leading to suicidal thoughts.

Organizations suffer, too. With increased absences (including sick leave), turnover, errors, and presenteeism (showing up but checking out) and decreased productivity and morale, organizations’ bottom lines deteriorate, making them less competitive.

We have environmental regulations to limit environmental risks but few regulations for employee well-being. We have occupational health and safety laws calling for reports on workplace accidents and deaths. We uphold building codes, put down wet floor signs, and routinely inspect equipment — all physical protections. But we don’t mention the human impact of emotional and mental abuse. So we leave employee health up to our CEOs, who too often ignore damage to their employees. We don’t leave environmental pollution and occupational health and safety up to CEOs. So why do we leave employee health up to CEOs — when CEOs too often lead in ways that serve neither the employees nor their bottom lines?

Other countries have laws that address workplace abuse, including Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, and Denmark. The United States remains last among western democracies to have no anti-abuse laws for the general workforce.

Another way you can help
We need as many people as possible to contact your own state legislators and ask them to move Senate Bill 90/House Bill 6087 forward. Legislators care most about what their own constituents want so they can get re-elected, so calling and emailing your own state legislators is the most effective way to move the bill forward.


  1. Pamela

    I was bullied out of my teaching job. I had become an advocate for my students that were severely bullied and vomitte suicide. Most children that were bullied had invisible disabilities such as Autism spectrum disorders. The bullying got very bad until my doc pulled me out of work. My son with ASD got bullied as well. It’s a long story. I became buried in litigation and now live on the wrong disability pension 900.00$ a month.

  2. Catherine Costello

    Hi, short notice (not your fault, I know). I will try to get there but for support only. Catherine

    Sent from my iPhone


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