At a moment when employers nationwide are seeking guidance to create safer work environments, Montana’s state agency tasked with enforcing discrimination protections is losing funding for trainings and investigations.
The Montana Human Rights Bureau investigates complaints of harassment and discrimination in a variety of settings. The Bureau also provides education and training for employers and housing providers.
Now, it’s losing $135,000 from its annual budget. That’s part of statewide budget cuts due to Montana’s $227 million revenue shortfall It means the Bureau is losing two of its six full-time investigators.
[CORRECTION: The Human Rights Bureau staff went from 8 to 6 investigators due to the budget cuts and those have already been applied. At this point, it does not anticipate reducing staffing further from 6 to 4 investigators.]
"There is a potential that there might something we'll miss because of not having that full allotment of people to complete the investigation as we'd like," says Eric Strauss, the administrator of the state Employment Relations Division, which houses the Human Rights Bureau.
He says investigators will no longer be able to travel for in-person interviews to look into complaints, and instead will conduct those often sensitive interviews over the phone. The Bureau handles about 600 to 700 cases a year.
Strauss says the budget cuts mean that the Bureau’s investigations may not be as thorough, and the trainings for employers will be no more.
"We’re really disappointed in not having the ability to do that education and outreach piece. We've had lots of requests. People have been calling asking for education about those kinds of topics, and we're just not able to provide that service right now with the cuts taking place.
Learn more about the fallout from state budget cuts.