Sexual harassment law takes effect July 1

Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas discusses new legislation aimed at curbing workplace sexual harrassment.

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MONTPELIER — A bill aimed at changing workplace culture around sexual harassment will become law July 1.

Gov. Phil Scott signed an anti-sexual harassment bill into law on May 30 that improves statewide sexual harassment reporting, bans policies that make it difficult for survivors to report misconduct and kick-starts an education campaign to foster safer internal reporting by victims inside companies.

The goal of the bill, H.707, is to ensure workers have adequate protections, according to the bill's 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.

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- Requires the Attorney General's office to implement of a streamlined reporting system. The attorney general's office must create a new reporting questionnaire specifically for sexual harassment by Dec. 15, 2018. Right now, the reporting questionnaire is the same for sexual harassment and reporting other forms of discrimination, such as disability discrimination.

- Mandates the launch of a complaint hotline and web portal to 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 is to receive $125,000 in state funds to implement a public education and outreach plan by Dec. 15, 2018.

- Gives the Attorney General's office the authority to conduct workplace audits. The AG will conduct workplace audits to ensure women have a safe reporting environment.

Assistant Attorney General Julio Thompson said the streamlined reporting, along with educational outreach, is a key way of educating and empowering people to report.

"The idea is 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 be tried legally, Thompson said.


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