There isn’t a new law on the books that you Hawaiian employers ought to worry about just yet on sexual harassment, but there could be some soon. Contacts out of the Star Bulletin on the beautiful Pacific islands indicate that employers in the 50th state are lobbying their government for a change in the way that sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are handled in the state. The group at the heart of the reform effort is the Hawaii Employers Council. Some Hawaiian employers might have heard about it—it is after all made up of 800 of you.
The Hawaii Employers Council say that the current rules on the discrimination, sexual, and so called ancestral harassment do not match current federal guidelines on the topic, and employers want to change the Hawaii laws to be more in line with the way federal requirements are.
But don’t expect these changes to go through the legislature without a fight by civil rights advocates. Some, according to the Star Bulletin report on the proposed rule changes, say that it wouldn’t be right to make employees have to report instances of sexual harassment to their employers first, instead of to government officials first.
Part of the rules changes would make it so that a worker who experiences sexual harassment would have to notify their employer first before going to the Civil Rights Commission or another alternate body. Plus, the rules changes would give credit to employers who have some sort of prevention program for sexual harassment in place, such as sexual harassment training. If that is the case, the new law would make it more difficult for an employee to prove that an employer was liable for the sexual harassment that they experienced.
As it stands now, though, many employers in Hawaii already claim to be training their supervisors in sexual harassment prevention in order to protect themselves from such liability, says the news report.
The state of Hawaii has a strong commitment to the protection of civil rights, including discrimination in the workplace. The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission (HCRC) was created to reinforce the state legislation that “no person shall be denied the enjoyment of civil rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, religion, sex or ancestry.” Luckily for citizens and workers of Hawaii by law the Commission is afforded a lot of rights. They may hold hearings and make inquiries as it deems necessary, they may conduct depositions, and compel the attendance of parties and witnesses and the production of documents by the issuance of subpoenas, and they have the authorization to enforce the State’s anti-discrimination statutes by commencing civil action.
According to Hawaii (HI) job discrimination law in the workplace harassment is covered under anti-discrimination laws and the law is very strict about such matters especially with regard to sex or ancestry. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct or visual forms of harassment of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment in the eyes of the law when submission to such conduct is implied as a term of employment or is used as the basis of employment or any employment decisions affecting an individual. If such conduct interferes with work performance or creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment it would be considered a violation according to Hawaii (HI) job discrimination law in the workplace. The same goes for ethnic slurs and other verbal or physical conduct relating to an individual’s ancestry. The Employer is responsible for its acts and those of its agents and supervisory employees with respect to harassment. They may be punished under Hawaii (HI) job discrimination law in the workplace if the employer, its agent, or supervisory employee, knows or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.
The Hawaii sexual discrimination law in the workplace, the Hawaii Employment Practices Act, is different than the Federal Title VII law. First of all, the Hawaii law defines an employer as anyone who has one or more employee where the Federal law only applies to those employers with fifteen or more employees. An employee under this law refers to anyone who is hired by an employer (as defined above) except for people employed in domestic service in someone’s home.
Basically, this law covers any refusing to hire, firing or otherwise discriminating against an employee or potential employee on the basis of gender that affect the compensation and terms and conditions of employment. It also makes illegal any penalization for women who wish to breastfeed or express milk at the workplace.
Anyone who feels they have been discriminated against need to file a claim with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. This complaint can be filed by visiting or calling the Commission office in Honolulu.
After you file a complaint, the Commission will then send a letter and a copy of the complaint to your employer as well as give the employer an opportunity to respond to the complaint. Then, the Commission will investigate the claim to see if there is reasonable cause to believe you’ve been discriminated against.
If there is reasonable cause, you will enter the settlement phase with your employer. If this fails your case moves to public hearing.
If you wish to go through the federal or state courts instead of through the Commission, you will need to either file with the EEOC or the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission with a request for a “Right to Sue” letter before filing such a claim.
Both employers and employees need to stay informed on the laws and how they affect their rights and responsibilities. Employers should also keep updated Hawaii Complete Labor Law posters posted in the workplace.
Hawaii and federal law prohibits most employees from being discriminated against in the workplace. Equal employment opportunity laws protect most employees from most types of job discrimination. The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission is in charge of enforcing the laws and statutes that are designed to stop discrimination in the workplace. One of the laws they enforce is making sure that employers display the Hawaii State Discrimination Posters. These posters detail a worker’s rights to be treated fairly while working.
Hawaii protects the rights of people in its state constitution. Article I of Section 5 ensures that no person can be discriminated against because of race, sex, religion, or ancestry. These rights were backed up for workers in the late 1980s when Acts 219 and 386 created the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. The commission has five commissioners who are appointed by the Governor for their commitment to human rights issues. These five commissioners aren’t paid for their work. However, they can hire a support staff including investigators and an attorney.
Hawaii continues to show its commitment to stamping out discrimination in the workplace by holding an annual training day to educate people about discrimination. In 2006, the training was a full day for the first time ever. This training is aimed at both employers and employees and is meant to educate so that discrimination in employment can be eliminated.
If anyone feels they have been discriminated against in the workplace because of his/her race, sex, religion, or ancestry, that person should file a complaint as soon as possible. That person is afforded rights under both Hawaii and federal laws. According to federal law, these rights must be prominently displayed on Hawaii State Discrimination Posters where all employees will see them. If the Hawaii State Discrimination Posters aren’t displayed correctly or if they don’t contain the correct information, employers may be subject to fines and/or penalties.
I know that in Hawaii, employees are given the right to a safe and healthy work environment. The Office of Safety and Health (HIOSH) was set up to protect workers from retaliation in the event that they witness a violation of law or safety in their workplace.
An employer may not discriminate against an employee who reports or threatens to report a violation of Hawaiian laws or contracts. Also, a worker has the right to participate in an investigation or hearing by a government agency or a court of law without fear of reprisal.
Some examples of discrimination that I read include: firing, demotion, transfer, layoff, losing the opportunity for overtime or promotion, exclusion from normal overtime work, assignment to an undesirable shift, denial of benefits such as sick leave or vacation time, blacklisting with other employers, taking away company housing, damaging credit at banks or credit unions and reducing pay or hours.
Workers have the right to complain to HIOSH and seek an inspection. If an employee believes that they have been discriminated against, they must mail a written complaint within 60 days of the discriminatory incident. HIOSH conducts an in-depth interview with each complainant to determine the need for an investigation. If evidence supports the worker’s claim of discrimination, HIOSH will ask the employer to restore the worker’s job, earnings and benefits. If the employer objects, HIOSH may take the employer to court to seek relief for the worker.
I know that a worker may also file a lawsuit in state court within 2 years after the occurrence of the alleged violation. Employers must post a notice of the law in their business. The Hawaii Complete Labor Law poster is available detailing all current Hawaiian labor laws.