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Utah Women & Leadership Project releases report on sexual harassment

By Genelle Pugmire - | Aug 16, 2022

Courtesy photo

Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

When allegations came to light earlier this month against Utah Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, the spotlight turned to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Those allegations have brought impetus to the Utah Women & Leadership Project releasing a new paper titled “Addressing Workplace Sexual Harassment: Public Policy Solutions for Utah.”

This report is meant to educate readers, and help them understand and solve the issue of workplace sexual harassment.

Susan Madsen, director of UWLP, and her team at Utah State University have garnered information on how Utah can do better at stopping sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment continues to occur in United States workplaces despite being prohibited by law for decades,” reads the report. “During the federal fiscal year 2021, 8,191 sexual harassment claims were filed with the federal government and companion state government agencies that administer sexual harassment laws. Fifty-eight of these were filed in Utah.”

Workplace sexual harassment causes harm, Madsen noted. “Harms to individuals being sexually harassed include negative mental and physical health effects, reduced opportunities for on-the-job learning and advancement, forced job changes, unemployment, and/or abandonment of well-paying careers.”

It can also harm the employers that may bring on legal costs, damages to reputations, increased employee turnover, increased absences and reduced productivity, the paper notes.

The recommendations UWLP suggested for Utah were included in a one-page summary:

  • Require prevention measures and provide employer tools. Utah should focus on the root of the problem — workplace sexual harassment continues despite being prohibited for decades — and require three prevention measures based on the premise that awareness is the first step to change.
  • Take steps to reduce retaliation. Utah should next focus on the troubling corollary to the problem’s root. Not only does workplace sexual harassment continue, but the vast majority of women experiencing it do not report it or bring legal claims because of retaliation.
  • Remove barriers to legal redress. Utah should remove barriers to legal redress that exist in the two current options claimants have for redress, as well as in Utah’s Antidiscrimination Act.

Madsen’s team believes employers should be required to conduct recurrent sexual harassment training and post notice of sexual harassment rights.

Laws should require employers to have and periodically distribute written sexual harassment policies and conduct a comprehensive, statewide study on sexual harassment incidents; require employers to report sexual harassment data; and enact additional prevention measures based on the data.

Workplace retaliation from reporting sexual harassment is also a concern, and UWLP argues that several mandates should be put in place.

The white paper notes that Utah should mandate that required sexual harassment training also cover retaliation, that required sexual harassment notices include retaliation rights and that required sexual harassment policies prohibit retaliation.

The team is also calling on fast-tracking the investigation of retaliation charges.

Utah could also, “ban nondisclosure and no-rehire provisions in employment and workplace sexual harassment settlement agreements,” the paper reads.

UWLP is asking to add state court options for legal redress and to allow compensatory and punitive damages and add individual liability.

“Expand the scope of Utah’s Antidiscrimination Act by changing covered employers to include those with less than 15 employees, removing ‘severe or pervasive’ requirement from sexual harassment definition, and refining excluded employers’ definition so they are subject to sexual harassment prohibitions,” the paper reads.

For more information, or to read the white paper summary, visit http://utahwomen.org.


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