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Bill in Ore. House Fights Workplace Harassment, Assault

Women in the janitorial industry are vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault because of the nature of their work. (Kanoke_46/iStock)
Women in the janitorial industry are vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault because of the nature of their work. (Kanoke_46/iStock)
April 20, 2017

SALEM, Ore. -- A bill in the state House is looking to tackle a major issue in Oregon: sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

Currently in the House Judiciary Committee, House Bill 3279 would protect employees in the janitorial industry, where incidences of harassment are especially high. Michele Roland-Schwartz is executive director of the Oregon Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force.

"House Bill 3279 is trying to address how do we increase protections for individuals in those kinds of settings where you do have this kind of perfect storm of conditions that increase their risk of experiencing harassment or sexual violence by someone who's in a position of authority,” Roland-Schwartz said.

The bill would establish a registry of janitorial contractors to ensure they are compliant with Bureau of Labor and Industry laws when it comes to workplace harassment. It also would strengthen workplace standards for sexual harassment training - a measure that would help educate employees on improving the culture at work and also let them know what rights they have if they are harassed or assaulted.

Whitney Stark, an attorney who represents victims of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, said the bill would mainly affect a population that already is vulnerable. Latina women, especially those who are undocumented, are much less likely to report harassment out of fear of retaliation or sometimes because of a lack of knowledge of their rights.

Stark said they're also vulnerable simply due to the environment in which they work.

"They're typically on a floor by themselves, often at night, so they are very vulnerable to sexual harassment,” Stark said. "And it's a unique industry in that way because both the hours of the work, the nature of the work, as well as the population of people who work in the industry."

Roland-Schwartz said she thinks it's possible to stop harassment and assault in every workplace, if everybody is willing to do their part.

"It takes everyone to speak up,” she said. "It takes everyone to participate. And so everybody plays a role in preventing sexual violence."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR