MONTPELIER, Vt. — House legislators introduced a bill Thursday designed to protect victims of workplace sexual harassment and make it easier for them to speak up.
The measure would prohibit employment agreements that prevent a worker from disclosing sexual harassment or that waive a worker’s rights or remedies to a claim of sexual harassment. It also would ban settlements of sexual harassment claims that prevent an employee from working for the employer and would require the parties to give notice of settlements to the attorney general.
“We’re here today to say to every Vermonter, we’ve got your back,” said Democratic Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, of Bradford, at a Statehouse press conference.
The #meToo movement has brought forth a critical and long overdue conversation about workplace sexual harassment, she said.
“While public shaming might reform the behavior of people whose jobs rely on their public reputation, a few forced resignations will do very little to protect the average factory worker, restaurant server or store clerk,” she said. “We need to make sure that we open up the conversation and empower everyone to say, ‘no thanks’ to unwanted sexual advances.”
The Vermont Commission on Women has heard from women about sexual harassment that is making it difficult — sometimes impossible — for them to do their jobs, said executive director Cary Brown. “For many women in Vermont, sexual harassment can be an insurmountable obstacle that gets in the way of supporting their families,” she said.
The scope of the problem in Vermont is unknown — partly because settlements are confidential — but needs to be tracked, said Copeland-Hanzas, who said the bill has support from Demcrats, Republicans and Progressives.
“The bottom line is that we have to do everything that we can to create a Vermont that works for all of us,” said Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, “where families and communities thrive, and we need to make sure that everyone working and living in our state can do so with dignity and respect and that that dignity and respect is accessible to everyone.”
This version corrects the lawmaker’s name to Copeland-Hanzas, not Copeland-Hanza.