Washington State Enacts New Sexual Harassment Training Mandates

Washington State Enacts New Sexual Harassment Training Mandates

Certain Industries Will Now Be Required to Provide Sexual Harassment Training To Employees

In wake of the growing concern about workplace sexual harassment and public outcries like the #MeToo movement, the Washington State Legislature has signed new laws aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. These laws mandate stronger protections against workplace sexual discrimination and harassment. To learn more about Washington States other anti-sexual harassment policies Click Here.

I think this legislation will help hundreds of employees in the hospitality industry avoid sexual harassment,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines.

Engrossed Senate Bill 5258 (View it Here) mandates several changes to the states sexual harassment policies for specified industries. The targeted employers are ones with employees and management who often work in an isolated environment. The “employer” means any person, association, partnership, property services contractor, or public or private corporation, whether for-profit or not, who employs one or more persons. The types of businesses and workers covered under this law include hotels, motels, retail corporations, security guard entities, and property service contractors. Property service contractors are usually employers who provide commercial janitorial services to other businesses that do not have their own cleaning staff.

The mandates include:

  • Implementation of a complete and effective workplace sexual harassment policy (the state provides a model policy that can be implemented once it is adapted to fit the employer).
  • Mandatory training for employees and management that helps prevent sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and sexual assault in the workplace.
  • Mandatory training on proper reporting procedures for sexual harassment claims, as well as the protections provided the reporting employee.
  • Employers must provide employees with the contact information of helpful resources such as the Washington State Human Rights Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and local advocacy groups focused on sexual harassment prevention.
  • Employers must provide employees with a “Panic Button,” which is a device that an employee can use to summon immediate on-scene assistance from another worker, a security guard or a representative of the employer
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It is worth noting that some other states, such as Illinois, have put new laws in place requiring certain employees to carry “Panic Buttons.” (Click Here to read about new Illinois anti-sexual harassment laws). These devices are very useful tools for employees working in an environment without other co-workers present. This is because sexual harassment can often be about exertion of power or control on another individual. An isolated environment can make these situation more common and frightening since the harasser believes they are not being watched. For instance, a perpetrator (co-worker or non-employee) might be much more likely to grope or force themselves upon someone in a deserted hallway than if they were in a crowded office building. The immediate reporting and response can help keep employees and patrons out of risky or dangerous situations.

Many large property  service contractors are in support of this bill as well. They believe the increased harassment training and protection will help improve employee health, moral and longevity. A study by the Washington State Board of Health found that reducing sexual harassment would impact health disparities and improve health outcomes for these workers. View the report.

“We know that a lot of workers in these industries are in survival mode. When you don’t know your rights and you depend on your job to put food on the table, you might be in a mindset to endure anything. This bill will send a signal to everyone in these industries that workers don’t have to just endure – they have the right to be safe and respected on the job, too.” —Zenia Javalera, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU6 Property Services NW.

The employees and employers covered under this new law should familiarize themselves with the details of the new laws, take note of deadlines and work to understand what constitutes sexual harassment or a hostile work environment. Sexual harassment should be reported immediately through the proper channels in order to minimize harm to the harassed and liability to the employer. Making sure employees are well aware of the sexual harassment policy and have received anti-sexual harassment compliance training helps lower liability to an employer. When employees know proper procedure according to company policy and do not follow it, the employer may be protected from monetary damages in a sexual harassment claim.

 Various forms of Workplace Sexual Harassment:

  • Unwanted physical contact
  • Bullying or forms of discrimination /gender
  • Social media exposure of a sexual nature
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Verbal sexually taunting situations
  • Display of sexually explicit or suggestive materials
  • Unwanted off color jokes
  • Exposure of genitalia

 Mandatory Deadlines

Engrossed Senate Bill 5258 was signed into effect on May 13, 2019 and spelled out a few deadlines that must be met by employers affected by the new policies. Most employers must have implemented the new policies and completed sexual harassment training of employees by January 1, 2021. Hotels or motels with 60 or more rooms must be in compliance with the new policies by January 1, 2020.


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