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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate panel mulls new sexual harassment bill

Senate Women’s Affairs Committee Chairwoman Jocelyne Rodríguez Negrón

By John McPhaul

The Senate Women’s Affairs Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on House Bill 794, which seeks to create the “Comprehensive Affirmative Action Law to Eradicate Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.”

“What this measure seeks is to eradicate gender violence, which is the initial focus of this committee,” said Committee Chairwoman Jocelyne Rodríguez Negrón. “To that end, we want to carry out these processes, which we believe are totally healthy processes, to establish the best legislation possible.”

The purpose of the measure is to repeal Law 17-1988, as amended, known as Law to Prohibit Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, in order to strengthen the prohibition of sexual harassment at work and adapt the public policy of the state to contemporary labor reality, to include within the regulatory scheme of the statute the worker-employer relationship that is generated between the employees of an independent contractor.

Testifying before the committee was Hecreian Martínez, deputy director of legal affairs of the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF), who stated that the measure under discussion represents a substantial change in labor protection legislation, which especially prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace.

“It draws our attention that the bill not only repeals Law 17, which has served as a protective cloak for more than 30 years, but also that it revokes all interpretive jurisprudence of the same and that serves as a defining reference for economic actors,” the official said.

Martínez said AAFAF considers that the abrupt elimination of the rule of law could create a vacuum, the impact of which is legal uncertainty.

“Undoubtedly, we recognize that the measure contains provisions that are in the interest of improving the state of current labor law,” he added.

For its part, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) indicated that the measure would have a budgetary impact.

“If approved, it will be required to include an item of no less than $2,000,000 from the General Fund to be allocated to the Office of the Women’s Advocate, as well as an amount not less than $175,000 for the Department of Labor and Human Resources (DTRH) for compliance with the functions and powers imposed by the proposed Law,” OMB legislative adviser Roberto Rivera said.

Meanwhile, Naomi Álamo from the DTRH noted that she is in favor of reinforcing the current state of law on sexual harassment.

“Personally, I am concerned that under current law, the definition of an employee is subject to the fact that he or she must receive remuneration,” she said. “In this sense, I am concerned that people who do internships and do not charge [for their labor] are subjected to sexual harassment.”

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