UTAH LEGISLATURE

Utah House OKs bill prohibiting employers from imposing racial beliefs on workers

Feb 2, 2024, 4:21 PM | Updated: 4:23 pm

FILE - The Utah Capitol is shown on March 3, 2023. Utah lawmakers have just five days left to pass ...

FILE - The Utah Capitol is shown on March 3, 2023. Utah lawmakers have just five days left to pass hundreds of bills before time runs out for the legislative session on midnight on March 1. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — A measure that would prohibit employers from requiring employees to ascribe to certain beliefs related to race, color, sex or national origin has passed the Utah House.

HB111 comes as conservatives across the country, including Utah, lash out at diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at public universities. The measure contains language paralleling wording in HB261, the controversial bill signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday that revamps diversity, equity and inclusion programming — traditionally meant to help minority students navigate a college setting — at Utah’s universities.

It’s one thing for an employer to require workers to behave a certain way while on the job, Rep. Tim Jimenez, the bill’s sponsor, said from the House floor Thursday, but they shouldn’t be required to personally accept a belief system as their own, the sort of thing HB111 would prohibit, specifically with regard to race matters. The bill passed the House in a 54-20 vote, with 14 Democrats and six Republicans dissenting. Now, it goes to the Senate for consideration.

Jimenez, R-Tooele, cited instances in law enforcement when workers, apparently corrections officers, “were compelled to profess a belief that certain minorities are inherently oppressed … or oppressive in both cases. We can teach that, obviously, and 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.”

That was the only specific example of the sort of thing he’s aiming to stop that Jimenez cited. He didn’t provide other examples, citing, in part, concerns of those who have reached out to him that they could lose their jobs if it were discovered they spoke out.

“At this point, all I have is a lot of employees who have thanked me for this bill. Obviously, I haven’t gone as far as most of them wanted to,” Jimenez said.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, expressed opposition, saying the measure represented “government overreach.” “We’re telling businesses how to operate in the context of what the sponsor wants,” Wheatley said.

Rep. Matt MacPherson, R-West Valley City, countered, noting other labor and employment regulations related to race matters. “I don’t see this as an overreach because we’re already in this space when it comes to the state and federal government,” he said.

Among other specific “concepts” employers can’t oblige employees to believe, per HB111, is the notion that someone “should be subject to discrimination or adverse treatment because of actions that other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin committed in the past.” That seems to stem from debate in some circles about lingering responsibility white people have, or should have, stemming from the racism minorities in the United States have historically faced and echoes language in HB261.

HB261 prohibits universities from creating policies that posit that an individual “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other individuals with the same personal identity characteristics.”

Likewise, HB111 delves into the question of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives — the key focus of HB261. HB111 states that it is illegal to oblige an employee to believe that people, “by virtue of the individual’s race, color, sex or national origin, should be subject to discrimination or adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity or inclusion.”

HB261 proponents tout that measure as a means of expanding diversity, equity and inclusion programming at universities to all students in need, including white students, not just the minority and other traditionally marginalized students such initiatives are designed to assist.

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Utah House OKs bill prohibiting employers from imposing racial beliefs on workers