On May 30th, Governor Phil Scott signed a new sexual harassment law for the state of Vermont that aspires to provide greater legal protection in light of the #MeToo movement, not just for employees, but volunteers, interns and independent contractors. This new law, effective July 1, 2018, requires some businesses and organizations to make significant changes to their workplace policies and recordkeeping practices. Below is a summary of key takeaways.
Specifically, the Act:
- Requires employers to provide a copy of its sexual harassment policy at time of hire and again whenever the employer changes its policy.
- Prohibits employers from requiring any employee or candidate for hire, as a condition of employment, to sign an agreement that waives “a substantive or procedural right or remedy available to the employee with respect to a claim of sexual harassment”. Essentially, this provision bans employment agreements requiring that sexual harassment claims be resolved through arbitration.
- Prohibits employment agreements that prevent or restrict an employee or prospective employee from “opposing, disclosing, reporting, or participating in an investigation of sexual harassment”.
- Regulates the content and scope of a settlement agreement, including a requirement that all sexual harassment settlement agreements contain specific statements describing when a claimant-party has the right to disclose information.
- Mandates that a sexual harassment settlement agreement may not prohibit the claimant-party from working for the employer “or any parent company, subsidiary, division, or affiliate of the employer”. In other words, the statute prohibits the use of “no rehire” or “don’t darken my doorstep” policies which have been very common for decades.
- Directs the development of a public education and outreach program, including the establishment of a hotline and web portal for the reporting of sexual harassment complaints to the Vermont Human Rights Commission or the Attorney General’s Office.
- Authorizes the Attorney General’s Office (with 48 hours of notice), to “enter and inspect any place of business, question any person who is authorized by the employer to receive or investigate complaints of sexual harassment, and examine an employer’s records, policies, procedures, and training materials related to the prevention of sexual harassment”. This authority includes the right to examine all documents related to sexual harassment claims, including the number and details of such complaints and their resolution. In certain circumstances, the Attorney General may require an employer to conduct employee training.
- Directs the Office of Legislative Affairs to develop “mechanisms” for essentially voiding non-disclosure agreements in prior settlements where, in a separate, later claim, the alleged harasser is “adjudicated by a court or tribunal of competent jurisdiction to have engaged in sexual harassment or retaliation in relation to a claim of sexual harassment”.