Vermont has recently strengthened its antidiscrimination law, the Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA), in several ways. The following changes, which apply to employers of all sizes, took effect on July 1, 2023, just a few days after being signed into law by the governor.
Harassment Protections Expanded
The law no longer requires that conduct be “severe or pervasive” to constitute harassment or sexual harassment. This expands the scope of conduct that might be considered harassment and makes state law more protective than federal law.
FEPA now also includes a definition of harass, which means to engage in unwelcome conduct based on a protected category that interferes with the employee’s work or creates a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive. Additionally, the definition of sexual harassment no longer requires that the offending conduct substantially interfere with an employee’s performance at work—it only needs to interfere with their work.
Conduct can constitute harassment even if, for example:
- It only occurred one time
- The complaining employee permitted it or participated in it
- The conduct occurred outside the workplace
Pay Equity Now Covers More Protected Characteristics
FEPA’s pay equity provisions prohibit employers from paying different rates to members of different protected classes for equal work. Previously, the law only addressed differences for employees of different sexes, but it now covers race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
- Review your harassment prevention policy and update it if needed. If you make changes, redistribute the policy to employees and get their written acknowledgment.
- Notify supervisors of these changes and train them on how to recognize conduct that could constitute harassment and how to respond.