Sexual Harassment Prevention in the Workplace
By: Alexandra Clauss
Beginning July 1, 2018, Vermont joined several states that are taking steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The law applies to all employers in Vermont, regardless of size. It's critical for employers to be aware of these changes and take the necessary steps for compliance.
Sexual Harassment Relating to Non-Employees
Every person who engages someone to perform work or services is obligated to ensure the working relationship with that person will be free from sexual harassment. This amendment will extend sexual harassment protections to non-employees, including, contractors, vendors, consultants, interns, volunteers, and anyone else who is performing services.
Employee Training & Policies
The amendments require that if an employer changes their sexual harassment policy, it must provide written notice of the updated policy to all employees. Further, employers and labor organizations are encouraged (though not required) to conduct annual education and training on sexual harassment for all employees and specific training for managers about their responsibilities concerning sexual harassment complaints.
Agreements with Employees
Agreements with employees and prospective employees cannot have terms that prevent an employee from disclosing, reporting or participating in an investigation of sexual harassment or waive certain rights available to the employee with respect to a claim for sexual harassment. In addition, there are a number of requirements for agreements that settle sexual harassment claims.
- Settlement agreements cannot include a term that prevents an employee from working for the employer, parent, subsidiary, division or affiliate of the employer. This is often referred to as a “no reinstatement” provision.
- Agreements that settle sexual harassment claims must state that the agreement does not prohibit, prevent or restrict that person from making a complaint of sexual harassment with the Vermont Attorney General, a State’s Attorney, the Human Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or any other State or federal agency; testifying, assisting, or participating in an investigation of sexual harassment by these state and federal agencies; complying with a valid discovery request in civil litigation or testifying in a hearing or trial related to a claim of sexual harassment; or exercising any right the person may have under state or federal labor laws to engage in concerted activities for purposes of collective bargaining or mutual aid and protection.
- Agreements settling claims of sexual harassment must state that it does not waive any rights or claims that may arise after the date the agreement is signed. Provided, a claimant can still lawfully release their right to remedies related to sexual harassment that occurred before the date the agreement is signed.
Additional provisions that employers should be aware of include:
- With 48 hours’ notice to the employer, the law allows the Vermont Attorney General or Human Rights Commission (for State employers) to audit a business’ compliance with the law on sexual harassment.
- By December 15, 2018, the Vermont Attorney General and Human Rights Commission must develop enhanced mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment or workplace discrimination through phone hotline and website. By January 14, 2020, there must be a report back to the legislature on the new reporting mechanisms with suggestions for reducing work-related discrimination and harassment.
- The Vermont Commission on Women has been directed to develop education and outreach on best practices to prevent sexual harassment by December 15, 2018, and funds have been appropriated for this purpose.
- By September 15, 2018, the Commissioner of Labor must update its model sexual harassment policy and mandatory poster.
- Review and update form agreements with employees, including severance agreements that contain releases.
- Review your sexual harassment policy to ensure it is compliant with the law.
- Consider conducting training programs for employees and managers, mainly to ensure supervisors and human resources staff is trained to handle complaints of workplace harassment.
- Post the updated sexual harassment poster in the workplace.