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More DEI restrictions could be on the way — this time in Utah’s private sector

Bill would prohibit companies from requiring staff to profess a belief as a condition of employment

By Alixel Cabrera - Utah News Dispatch | Feb 2, 2024

Spenser Heaps, Utah News Dispatch

The downtown Salt Lake City skyline is backdropped by fresh snow on the Wasatch Mountains on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.

A new potential Utah law would forbid private companies from requiring their staff to sign a written document professing a belief on generalizations around sex, race, national origin and color.

HB111, titled Employment Training Requirement Limitations, passed the House 54-20. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Similarly to HB261 — which bans diversity, equity and inclusion programs on public universities and offices and has now been signed into law by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox — this bill would restrict how trainings focused on minorities work in the private sector, raising concerns among Democrats and some Republicans who believe it would interfere with how private businesses operate.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, went through different changes to address concerns from other lawmakers about determining when the rule would apply. Its latest version explains that the bill would prohibit trainings or requirements “that compel or require a written document or attestation professing an adherence to or belief in certain concepts.”

However, the legislation doesn’t forbid companies from conducting diversity, equity and inclusion trainings.

“It’s fine for us to obviously have discussions and it’s fine for us as employers to compel behavior within what we do as employers,” Jimenez said on Thursday. “However, we cross the line when we compel an employee to accept a belief, rather than just accept speech.”

This wouldn’t prevent staff from raising complaints to human resources about reports of racism or sexism, he said. “It also does not stop an employer from requiring an employee to check boxes when they take trainings and commit to behave a certain way in the workplace.

“In other words, ‘to work here, this is how we want you to behave’ (is allowed),” he said, “versus ‘to work here, you have to believe this’ (would not be allowed).”

Jimenez worked with different industries, he said, to make sure the government was not overstepping its bounds. When asked about cases in which companies asked their staff to subscribe to beliefs, he said he had heard complaints from people working in law enforcement.

“(Some working in law enforcement) were compelled to profess a belief that certain minorities are inherently oppressed or repressed,” he said. “And we can teach that, obviously, we can make someone come to the table and hear those discussions. However, we as employers cross the line when we state that in order to work at this particular correctional facility or within corrections, you must actually believe this as well.”

Jimenez didn’t offer any examples of that happening in the private sector, since, he said, affected employees were unable to provide evidence without causing issues in their employment.

Democrats in the House opposed the bill, some deeming it “government overreach,” a frequent target of state Republicans when it comes to the federal government.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, said the bill oversteps bounds in private businesses and that employees who don’t like certain policies or stances from their employers can choose to work elsewhere.

“(We’ve talked) about how we want to encourage businesses to come to do their thing, to hire more people, but by having the government insert themselves in private employer-employee relationships, we are stymieing that,” Stoddard said. “And I don’t think that’s who we are.”

Rep. Matt MacPherson, R-West Valley City, supported the bill, saying the country has a lot of laws regarding discriminatory practices and protected status in the workplace.

“And in some ways that provides protections for employees and for business,” MacPherson said. “But in many ways they can be used as a tool to indoctrinate and force employees into positions that (are) not advantageous to them.”

This bill would just clarify how far the already existing state and federal boundaries will go, he said.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.


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