With an area of just 1,500 square miles, Rhode Island is the smallest of all the U.S. states. But the Ocean State is more diverse than the numbers might tell you. The gross state product is over $30 billion per year. RI supports thriving maritime, jewelry, tourism, textile, financial services, and machining industries. Major companies call Rhode Island home, including: Hasbro, Nortek, CVS, and Citizen Financial Group.
The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights – often abbreviated as just “The Commission” – was established way back in 1949 to combat discriminatory practices in the workplace and elsewhere. The Rhode Island General Assembly created The Commission pursuant to RIGL Statute 28-5-2 to educate employers and employees about what constitutes discrimination; to collect and investigate discrimination charges; to mediate and settle charges when possible; to enforce corrective action; and to hold administrative hearings. Rhode Island prohibits discrimination on the basis of status, including:
- Sexual orientation or gender identity. In Rhode Island, employers may not use an applicant’s or employee’s sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity or expression as a factor in their hiring decisions or treatment within the workplace.
- Color, race, or ancestral origin. Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against candidates or employees based on race or ethnicity.
- Disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides significant rights to individuals affected by physical or mental conditions impacting one or more essential life functions. Employers assume a responsibility to create accommodations for otherwise qualified applicants and employees.
- Age. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), an employer may not alter its terms and conditions of employment for workers over 40. This includes everything from whom they choose to lay off to how they treat older employees.
The Commission is an impartial, (theoretically) unbiased agency. It provides mechanisms by which victims of employment discrimination in Rhode Ireland can seek redress (including compensation). It can also dismiss insubstantial claims or claims in which not enough evidence exists to pursue investigation. When an initial investigation fails to solve a problem, The Commission can send a Preliminary Investigating Commissioner (PIC) to conduct a more formal ruling.
While Rhode Ireland has a range of laws on the books to deter and staunch workplace discrimination, cultural biases persist, particularly in “blue collar” industries. For instance, some industry bosses “play by their own rules” with respect to issues such as:
- Wage and hour discrepancies. When employees suspect their employers may be inaccurately recording timecards, withholding tips or overtime pay, or acting in other ways to pocket workers’ rightfully-earned wages, they may seek legal assistance.
- Harassment. The office is no place for disrespectful sexual language, even if delivered in a joking manner. Employers must act to eliminate unwanted sexual advances, lewd jokes, and other sexual harassment.
But just because an illicit practice is “culturally normative” in a company or even in a whole industry doesn't mean it’s legal.
To pursue a claim, look to a Rhode Island employment attorney to discuss your legal recourse. With the help of a knowledgeable professional, you can hold your employer responsible for their illegal practices.