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Labor & Commerce Nov 2018

Now accepting comment: workplace sexual harassment model policy, procedures, and best practices

Since July 2018, a stakeholder work group has been brainstorming and work-shopping model sexual harassment policies, procedures, and best practices for Washington workplaces. Drafts of the resulting documents are now up and open for comment on the Washington State Human Rights Commission’s website.

The best practices document gives a framework of standards by which the work group recommends employers abide, while the model policy and procedures give guidance at a more granular level. The model policy and procedures seem as if they could function as templates for employers — there are areas of bracketed text waiting to be replaced with company-specific information.

WA Sexual harassment procedure draft

Image: Washington State Human Rights Commission

These three documents are the result of work-group meetings conducted in different areas of the state, as well as information gathered from sources like the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, other states’ policies, and efforts on college campuses.

Senate Bill 6471, which passed earlier this year, called for the formation of the work group and required it consist of various stakeholders. Members include human resources personnel, representatives for business, labor, and agriculture, farm worker advocates, victim advocates, mental health workers, attorneys, and other subject-matter experts.

According to the bill, the final documents will not serve as mandates for businesses. Rather, they’ll be posted “prominently” on the websites of the Human Rights Commission and the Department of Labor and Industries “for the public to access.”

Ultimately, the bill states the publicly available documents are meant to “encourage employers to adopt and actively implement policies to ensure their workplaces are safe for women workers to report concerns about sexual harassment without fear of retaliation, loss of status, or loss of promotional opportunities.”

Laura Lindstrand, policy analyst at the Washington State Human Rights Commission, recently presented on the work group’s progress to the Washington State Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. She said the work has been especially exciting given the cultural context of the moment.

“This has been a very exciting project, and the timing on this bill couldn’t be better with the #MeToo movement taking place last year,” Lindstrand said.

In the meeting, no committee members raised issue with any specific guidelines in the current document drafts, but Senator Lynda Wilson (R, 17th LD) expressed concern about this broader language in the second paragraph of the best practices:

“If you have no sexual harassment complaints in your workplace, this does not mean that you have no workplace harassment,” the document states. “More likely, it means that whatever your current practices, they are not working as well as they should be.”

Sen. Wilson questioned Lindstrand on the implications of the language.

“This kinda makes my blood boil because you’re telling me that, because I don’t have this in my workplace, that I’m doing something wrong.”

Lindstrand clarified that the language is intended to encourage workplaces to analyze their sexual harassment policies, even if they’re not getting complaints.

“It’s saying, ‘Just because you don’t have complaints, it doesn’t mean there’s not a problem,’” Lindstrand said. “And you need to look at your policies and procedures to make sure that they’re good ones.”

Stakeholders have until November 30 to submit any comments or concerns about the documents via email.

Once those comments are collected and considered, Lindstrand said the group will be on-track to finalize the documents in mid-December and have them up on the required websites by the end of the year.