Sexual harassment law goes into effect July 1

By Kelsey Neubauer

An anti-sexual harassment bill that takes effect July 1 will improve statewide sexual harassment reporting, ban policies that make it difficult for survivors to report misconduct, and kick-start an education campaign to foster safer internal reporting by victims inside companies.

The goal of the law, passed as H.707, is to ensure workers have adequate protections, said the lead sponsor, Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford.

“It’s no protection to women if we just out a few high-profile harassers,” Copeland-Hanzas said last month. “I wanted us to take a look at what can we do to extend sexual assault protection to all workers.”

The Human Rights Commission, the Vermont Commission on Women and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office have been asked to help implement the new policy.

The law does the following:

• Outlaws “don’t darken my door policies,” and pre-employment contracts. “Don’t darken my door policies” ban accusers from applying to the company or any subsidiary as part of settlements. The provision can be professionally paralyzing for those who hold careers where one company holds most of the jobs in the accuser’s career field. It also bans pre-employment contract provisions aimed at keeping workers silent if there is an instance of sexual harrassment.

• Requires the Attorney General’s Office to establish a streamlined reporting system, with a new questionnaire specifically for sexual harassment, by Dec. 15. Right now, the reporting questionnaire is the same for sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, such as disability discrimination.

• Requires setting up a complaint hotline and web portal that will be managed by the Vermont Human Rights Commission or the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.

• Subsidizes a public education program. The Vermont Commission on Women will receive $125,000 in state money to set up the public education and outreach plan by Dec. 15.

• Authorizes the Attorney General’s Office to conduct workplace audits to ensure women have a safe reporting environment.

Assistant Attorney General Julio Thompson said the streamlined reporting and educational outreach are key steps.

“We want to lower any barriers there are for reporting,” Thompson said. “We hope that we will hear from people in areas of our economy that we have not heard from.”

The reporting, education and audit provisions of the bill will help to ensure that there is a safe and effective way of reporting the harrasment internally, even when the transgression is not severe enough to prompt a lawsuit, Thompson said.

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