Even though we have made great strides in the wake of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements in exposing major systemic problems in our society, many people are still suffering discrimination, harassment and abuse because of their identity, some examples being their race, gender, and sexual orientation or having disabilities, especially in the workplace. In fact, anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women report having experienced workplace sexual harassment. In 2014, nearly 9,000 incidents of workplace harassment related to racial discrimination were filed in the United States. However, these numbers are very likely low due to fear of retaliation if they were to speak up or from not knowing what their options are to address the problem. It has been estimated that 75 percent of all workplace harassment incidents go unreported.
In response, I recently introduced legislation (2018-0256) at the King County Council to completely re-vamp our approach to preventing and addressing sexual harassment and other forms of harassment and discrimination, including race-based discrimination. When I researched what other municipal jurisdictions across the country have been doing, I found many are doing nothing more than updating an inadequate policy and not providing effective training for employees. While the updates are a necessary part of the process, they won’t necessarily change the culture of a workplace. If they did, I’m convinced #MeToo or Black Lives Matter wouldn’t have emerged.
My legislation is based on recommendations included in the 2016 report OF the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). I’ve also included what I’ve learned from my experiences and background in academia, in my research, as a state legislator, and as an expert witness for lawsuits on Title IX and school sexual harassment and misconduct.
Employees should not be afraid to go to work, be worried they’ll lose their job or have to continue to work in an environment where they do not feel heard, safe, or respected. The legislation recognizes that change needs to come from the top, and that everyone must be accountable, including elected officials. It also recognizes there’s not a “one-size fits all” approach to these issues. Each department and division within King County is different and must develop policies, procedures and training that fits its unique workplace.
Perhaps most important, my legislation would provide employees with needed information. Currently, County employees have only two options – file a complaint or do nothing. My ordinance would ensure there is an informal process as well by which employees can learn of their options relating to inappropriate conduct that has not risen to something actionable legally. By having that option, they would be able to decide whether to file a complaint or take lesser action— without fear of repercussion or retaliation.
Black Lives Matter and #MeToo provided what was needed to begin a cultural shift. Now is the opportunity to take this momentum and align our policies, procedures and training to create an environment inclusive, safe and respectful for 14,000 King County employees.
My Council colleagues and I are currently deliberating on the legislation along with how, as one King County, we can continue to support and respect one another as we serve our 2.1 million residents across the region.
Read more on this topic in recent articles that have appeared in the news:
Seattle Weekly: County Sexual Harassment Policies Could Be Overhauled