Vermont's harassment bill establishes a new target: 'No rehire' clauses
- Vermont lawmakers passed an unprecedented piece of anti-sexual harassment legislation that is the first in the country to ban a “no rehire” or “do not darken my door” clause, which prohibits workers who settle discrimination lawsuits from working again for an organization. According to PBS News Hour, "no re-hire" agreements are considered widespread, though tracking them is difficult due to many cases being settled privately and bound by non-disclosure agreements. The law, which includes other anti-harassment policies, was effective July 1.
- The practice is largely considered "boilerplate," lawyers told PBS, as the clause is usually intended to protect the company from getting sued again in the future. Proponents of the law say that the "no rehire" clause can be seen as "unreasonable retaliation" against someone that files a complaint and potentially impact their ability to be employed in the future, especially in smaller industries.
- The law also requires employers and labor organizations to, among other things, conduct an education and training program that includes all the law's measures for all new employees and members within a year after they're hired; and abstain from making employees sign a waiver or agreement that prohibits them from opposing, disclosing, reporting or participating in an investigation of sexual harassment, or contacting the attorney general, a state’s attorney, the Human Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or any other state or federal agency.
The question still looming after the #MeToo movement came to light is whether any permanent change will come out of the activism it generated, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum told participants at the agency's EXCEL Training Conference earlier this month. Only 32% of employees in an American Physiological Association study say their employer has taken new steps to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace since those events — leaving states and cities to respond, as they've been increasingly willing to do. Several states are considering legislation to ban non-disclosure agreements covering sexual misconduct, so Vermont may not be the last word on this subject.
While HR is often accused of protecting the employer, HR should remember that the best way to protect the company is to protect its people, Feldblum said in her remarks. Many employers' policies advocate conducting anti-sexual harassment training. But training alone might not be enough to prevent abuse, various experts said during this year's annual Society for Human Resource Management conference. A work environment must send a message to all workers that not only will misconduct not be tolerated, but that it also will be immediately addressed and investigated, and the appropriate action will be taken against violators.