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New Harassment, Discrimination Policies Requested by Council

Summary

With this policy, the County will promote an inclusive, respectful workplace for all King County employees. In addition to the legally prohibited harassment and discrimination, inappropriate conduct will also be prohibited. That means behavior that communicates a hostile, derogatory or negative message about a person’s identity or status won’t be tolerated, even if it does not rise to a level of unlawful discrimination or harassment.

Story

The Metropolitan King County Council today took a step toward creating a workplace for King County employees that is free from discrimination, harassment, and inappropriate conduct with its unanimous adoption of legislation calling for the development of new policies, procedures, and training plans.

“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,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, prime sponsor of the legislation. “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.”

For the first time, the adopted legislation adds a policy statement in law prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and inappropriate conduct in the King County workplace. With this policy, the County will promote an inclusive, respectful workplace for all King County employees. In addition to the legally prohibited harassment and discrimination, inappropriate conduct will also be prohibited. That means behavior that communicates a hostile, derogatory or negative message about a person’s identity or status won’t be tolerated, even if it does not rise to a level of unlawful discrimination or harassment.

Kohl-Welles’ work reflects the impact of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements and how their actions have shown that the standard approach to harassment and discrimination prevention aren’t working.  The legislation is an opportunity for King County to lead by example and show King County employees that no matter where they work, they will be safe from harassment, discrimination and their minimum expectation can be one of respect.  In addition, through training and workplace information, they will know their rights and how to enforce them when violated. 

“When drafting this legislation, it was important for us to make sure the policies and procedures were to be written in a way that would be easily understandable so as not to be intimidating or hard to decipher without the help of a lawyer or expert,” added Kohl-Welles.

“It’s very important to define the early stages and signs potentially leading to harassment,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “These guidelines will help do that, and I believe the results will enhance workplace satisfaction and productivity.”

“This legislation reflects the values and principles of our county’s namesake, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett. “In this period of open racism, sexism and homophobia, the social movements in our country have pushed local governments to strengthen policies that protect the human rights of all and ensure our employees feel safe and respected in their workplace.”

The legislation also requires county elected officials to revise current policies or develop new policies and procedures, and develop training to respond  to, and prevent  discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, and inappropriate conduct. While not mandated due to judicial independence and current judicial canons, the Courts are encouraged to share their policies and procedures in best practices to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace. 

“In the last year, we have learned that sexual harassment and discrimination remains widespread in workplaces across our country,” said Council Vice-Chair Claudia Balducci. “This new ordinance is an important step toward making sure that our King County workplace is free from discrimination and harassment so all of our employees feel safe and valued and can focus their energies on providing excellent service to the public.”

“As a County, we strive to ensure that our region is a safe and welcoming place for everyone. This legislation further embeds those values into our workplace,” said Joe McDermott, Chair of the King County Council. “Perhaps more importantly, it gives employees the training and tools necessary to support their right to a safe and respectful workplace.”

The legislation calls on agencies to present their revised policies, procedures, and budget requests for training to the council by September 24.

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