Labor committee holds hearings on range of bills

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The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development this spring has been holding hearings on bills on issues ranging from workplace harassment to job training to pregnant workers’ rights.
 
Pregnant workers
After receiving a favorable report from the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, the House on May 10 passed a bill (H. 3680) that would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and new mothers, so long as those accommodations do not create an undue hardship for the employer. The accommodations, which could vary from employee to employee and from job to job, could include allowing employees to carry a water bottle with them, allowing for additional and extended breaks, and providing a private, non-bathroom space for a new mother to express breast milk.
 
The bill was filed by Rep. David Rogers, and the advocacy is being led by MotherWoman, a nonprofit based in Hadley. The bill has more than 100 co-sponsors and support from the business community, with the Associated Industries of Massachusetts testifying in support while suggesting minor technical modifications.
 
The accommodations outlined in the bill are intended to be minor in nature, so they would not likely have a significant financial impact on municipal employers.
 
The bill is now in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and is expected to move through the legislative process relatively quickly.
 
Workplace harassment
The committee has held hearings on legislation that would provide employees with additional protections from workplace bullying and harassment.
 
While employees are already protected from certain types of harassment, this bill would expand protections for employees who are concerned that they are being exposed to an “abusive work environment.” The bill would protect an employee from retaliation for making a complaint, and would require the employer to take steps to remedy the situation.
 
The bill provides definitions of what would constitute “abusive conduct” and aims to get at types of abuse not addressed under current law.
 
The bill would apply to employers and workplaces of all types, including municipalities. Rather than being a new type of workplace regulation, however, the bill is more aptly described as an extension of protections employees have under current law. Municipal human resources staff would need to include the new protections in their work going forward.
 
The bill is still in the Labor and Workforce Development Committee.
 
OSHA
The committee has held hearings on bills this session on the topic of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and regulations being applied to cities and towns.
 
Last session, a similar bill was amended to add municipal seats on an OSHA Advisory Board rather than creating a municipal subcommittee, but the bill did not pass. When initially filed, this session’s bill had reverted to the subcommittee structure, but was amended to instead add the seats directly to the OSHA Board.
 
The MMA argues that the addition of the seats to the board itself, rather than creating a new subcommittee structure, is important to ensure that the unique concerns of municipalities in this area are adequately addressed. Municipalities and the private sector cannot necessarily be regulated in the same manner.
 
The bill was reported favorably by the Labor and Workforce Development Committee as amended and sent to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.