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Vermont Expands Protections for Race

Beginning July 1, 2024, Vermont has an updated definition of race in its discrimination statute, which applies to employers of all sizes. Race will include traits associated with or perceived to be associated with race. This specifically includes hair type and texture, hairstyles, and protective hairstyles including (but not limited to) braids, cornrows, locs, afros, wigs, headwraps, and other head coverings.

This definition creates a very broad set of protections for employees and has the potential for wide application, such as protecting dialect and styles of dress.

Action Items

  • If you have dress or grooming policies that regulate hairstyles or head coverings, consider whether they’re absolutely necessary for your organization. If you believe that they are, consider consulting with an attorney to ensure they don’t run afoul of this law.
  • Train managers and those involved in the hiring process to not make judgments about professionalism or cultural fit based on how someone wears their hair and to ensure their own unconscious bias doesn’t negatively affect candidates or employees.
  • Update your equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy to make it clear that race includes traits associated with or perceived to be associated with race.

Vermont Limits Captive Audience Meetings

Effective July 1, 2024, employers of all sizes can’t take—or threaten to take—adverse action against an employee to get them to attend, or for not attending, an employer-sponsored meeting if its primary purpose is to express the employer’s opinion on religious or political matters. The same applies to participating in or viewing communications for this purpose. These types of laws are primarily aimed at preventing employees from being forced to attend anti-unionization meetings.

This law defines matters as religious if they relate to religious affiliation and practice and the decision to join or support any religious organization or institution. Matters are considered political if they relate to any of the following:

  • Political affiliation
  • Elections for political office
  • Political parties
  • Legislative proposals
  • The decision to join or support any political party or political, civic, community, fraternal, or labor organization

The law contains several exceptions, including communications that are legally mandated or essential for an employee’s job duties and requiring attendance at meetings necessary for an employee to perform their job or to discuss the employer’s business operations. Additionally, the restrictions on religious communications don’t apply to religious organizations and the political communication restrictions don’t apply to political organizations.

Action Item

Allow employees to opt out of any meeting or communication covered by this law and make sure supervisors understand the law.

HR Consulting Team, HR Services
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