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In Shadow Of High-Profile Workplace Abuses, Lawmaker Wants To Strengthen State’s Rules

Nicole Nixon / KUER

The state’s HR department is basically on an honor system to provide training for workplace abuse and investigate complaints.

The Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) says it’s been doing its job. In a legislative committee Tuesday afternoon, labor relations director Rebecca Parr said since July 2015 there have been 67 complaints and 43 formal investigations.

Of those 43 investigations, seven state employees were found to have violated the state’s workplace abuse rules.

“Agency management took administrative action with respect to all seven employees,” Parr said, including “a verbal warning, a written reprimand, two suspensions without pay, two demotions, and a dismissal.”

The current rules in place came from a 2015 bill that defined abusive conduct and directed DHRM to create rules for workplace conduct. The bill was designed to make it easier for employees to report abuse at work.

But it doesn’t require the department to report those numbers, and Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, said there’s no way to ensure DHRM continues the training. He wants to see the rules put into statute and clarified.  

For example, Christensen said, many state employees don’t know that if they want to file a complaint, they only have 20 days from the time of the incident.

Christensen wants to “make sure that [state] employees know what their options are, what the process is, how they handle a situation that might arise if they feel like they’re being treated unfairly.”

While the nation grapples with workplace harassment and sexual misconduct, Christensen said that’s not where the idea for this bill came from.

The Draper Republican said he’s heard from constituents who work for the state and have voiced concerns about wasteful spending in their own departments, sometimes to the annoyance of their boss.

“In some instances, they feel like they’ve been mistreated because of that,” Christensen said. “They feel like they’ve been bullied, isolated, or intimidated.”

Christensen is working with state's HR managers to craft the bill, which should be made public in the next few weeks.

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