Vermont Business Magazine In response to the national movement inspiring survivors of sexual harassment to break their silence, Vermont lawmakers are introducing a bill that would encourage people experiencing harassment to come forward by offering them assistance and specific protections. “The #MeToo movement has sparked an important conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Representative Sarah Copeland Hanzas, (D-Bradford), the bill’s lead sponsor. “But the truth is, a few high profile firings or forced resignations do not amount to a single improved protection for the average factory worker, office worker, server or store clerk. This bill will offer a way to make real change for every worker in Vermont. This bill will remove the curtain behind which harassers have hidden their crimes and will offer a place workers can go to find the help they need to say to their harasser, ‘no'."
H.707, unveiled at press conference on Thursday, has already recieved wide support from Democratic, Republican, Progressive, and Independent lawmakers. Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan, Vermont business owners, and organizations such as Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Vermont Commission on Women, Main Street Alliance, and the Vermont ACLU are all supporters of the bill.
"In recent months we have repeatedly seen that, despite longstanding prohibitions against sexual harassment and sexual assault, these behaviors remain prevalent in our workplaces, continuing to violate workers' civil rights, dignity, and safety,” said James Lyall, Executive Director of the Vermont ACLU. “We know that absent legal protections, it is far too easy for employers to ignore or silence victims of harassment, making it exceptionally difficult to report and confront abusers. For these reasons, we welcome the Vermont legislature's efforts to protect the rights of Vermonters who encounter sexual harassment in the workplace, to make Vermont a safer and more equitable place for everyone.”
The Vermont Commission on Women, an organization dedicated to advancing the rights and opportunities for women in Vermont, offered key support in the development of this legislation. “For too many Vermont women, sexual harassment at work can be an insurmountable obstacle that gets in the way of supporting their families,” said Cary Brown, Director of Vermont’s Commission on Women. “At a time when many Vermont women already face economic insecurity, we need to do everything we can to remove all barriers for working women.”
“We need to pull back the curtain on systems that protect harassers and abusers,” said Daniel Barlow, public policy manager at Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. “This bill is a major step forward in terms of protections and data collection. We look forward to working with Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas and other legislative leaders to find ways to stop workplace harassment before it occurs.”
Rep. Copeland Hanzas says that the bill focuses on creating protections for those who report workplace harassment.
“We believe Rep. Copeland Hanzas’ bill provides helpful tools in our efforts to enforce Vermont’s sexual harassment laws, including an expanded ability for our Civil Rights division to investigate potential violations and extending legal protections to independent contractors,” Said Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan. “Thank you to Representative Copeland Hanzas for her leadership on this important issue.”