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 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.