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Washington State Sexual Harassment Laws: Staying Compliant In The Workplace

Washington State sexual harassment laws are designed to protect all employees. As the “MeToo” social movement gains strength, it is giving many people the courage to speak openly about offensive conduct in the workplace. This has led lawmakers in several states to introduce bills that address how complaints and resolutions are being handled by employers. Washington State is no exception.

In this article, we will help both employers and employees gain a deeper understanding of harassment and adopt measures in the work environment to stay in compliance with the Washington State laws.

Let’s start with the latest requirement:

Washington State’s Training Requirements

Washington State has enacted a new law (Washington State SB 5258) in regards to sexual harassment training for certain industries. New requirements include the implementation of a sexual harassment policy, followed by in-depth training about prevention measures, reporting procedures, and resources available to all employees. 

This training should ideally take place at the start of an employee’s job, or at least within the first 6 months of employment, and it should occur at least once every two years. Employees promoted to a supervisor or manager position must receive additional training that includes their responsibilities regarding complaints.

This law applies to the hotel, motel, security, retail, and property services contractor companies that employ at least one person. It has been in place since January 1st 2020 making sexual harassment training compliance a top priority for all employers.  

Companies who fail to comply can face fines going from a few hundred dollars to thousands depending on the number of violations and size of the organization. Claims against small to mid-sized companies can result in settlement costs of $125,000 (average per claim).

If you need help with training to protect your work environment and comply with the State’s laws, try EasyLlama’s sexual harassment training for Washington State. Our training is aimed to educate all your employees and get your company certified and compliant.

What is Considered Harassment In Washington State?

Washington State laws are very clear as to what harassment is and what it is not. Whether the actions are in-person, on the Internet or over the phone, any of the following can be considered harassment under the Revised Code of Washington, Section 9A.46.020:

  • Without having authority by law, a person knowingly threatens to:
  • Cause physical injury to the person threatened or to another person, immediately or in the future
  • Cause damage to the property of a person
  • Physically confine or restrain the threatened person or another person.
  • Act in any other way that is maliciously intended to harm someone else in respect to their mental or physical health or safety.
  • Using words or conducts to put the threatened person under reasonable fear that the previously mentioned acts (threats) will take place in the future.

Depending on different allegations and facts regarding his or her act, a person found guilty of harassment can face the following penalties:

Penalties for Harassment in Washington

Based on its nature, a harassment case can be classified either as a felony or a gross misdemeanor. These are the criteria and penalties for each case:

Gross Misdemeanor: 

Any person who is found guilty of harassment based on the previously mentioned behaviors is subject to a gross misdemeanor charge. This is punishable by a fine of $5,000 and up to 364 days in jail. 

Class C Felony Harassment:

A person is guilty of Class C Felony harassment if the Gross Misdemeanor elements are met, and additionally:

  • If a crime of harassment had been committed previously against the same victim (or the victim’s family)
  • The individual threatens to kill the victim or another person
  • The threat or harassing conduct is directed to a criminal justice participant because of their decisions and actions while performing official duties.

 This is punishable with up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Over the past few years, our society has become more aware of harassment issues. We have seen more of an effort to prevent and eliminate harassment in the workplace. Especially when it comes to sexual harassment.

Despite significant changes, the social movement #MeToo has brought to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, it is still a common problem. 

Harassment in the workplace

Offensive comments or unprofessional conduct against an employee can be considered a form of employment discrimination. Harassment can come in many forms, both physical and verbal. This is based on any of the protected characteristics stated by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These include disability, age, race, and sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity) among others. 

The most common type of workplace harassment

Harassment in the workplace has been one of the main areas to focus on when trying to eradicate the problem as research shows that about 2 million people are victims of workplace violence in the US annually (considering reported cases only). 

From offensive, unwelcome comments or behaviors to sexual favors requests and physical advances; sexual harassment is the #1 most common type of workplace harassment. Let’s learn more about it: 

Sexual Harassment

There are two types of sexual harassment claims in the workplace: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo:

When an employee’s manager, supervisor, or other figures of authority offers a benefit such as pay, title, promotion, or any other opportunity for advancement in exchange for any form of sexual favors or advances. This is what the law refers to as quid pro quo. Conversely, this can also happen when a manager threatens to fire or reprimand an employee in any other way for refusing to engage in sexual activity. 

Hostile work environment:

Unlike quid pro quo, a sexually harassing behavior that results in a hostile work environment does not necessarily come from a person in a position of authority and does not involve the proposed arrangement mentioned previously. Actions or words that are pervasive and severe can create a hostile work environment. For example, sexual innuendo, inappropriate gestures, text messages, or the sending of electronic communication that is sexually suggestive. Alternatively, a single incident like touching a co-worker in a sexually aggressive manner will also result in a hostile work environment.

Although sexual harassment is most common towards women, people of all genders can be victims as well as perpetrators. 

Unfortunately, despite the visibility and empowerment of many recent movements against harassment, many employees are still unwilling to report these incidents.  In many cases, employees do not know how to prove they are being victims of harassment.

How do you prove sexual harassment at work?

If you are facing harassment or discrimination in your workplace, it is important that you stay calm and address the issue professionally. Remember, you have the right to report any actual (or attempted) assault to your employer as well as the police at any time. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when building your case:

Have documentation of the problem

It is very important to gather as much information as you can about the harassment or discrimination incident. Make sure to write down all details of every interaction as soon as it happens (including names, times, dates and locations). Additionally, document all conversations you may have with your co-workers or supervisors about the issue, and include information about any formal complaint made as well as the response you received.

Keep your information safe

Ideally, you should start a file where you can keep your notes and all other evidence you can gather. Keep it in a safe place, and if your documentation is in a digital form, make sure not to record it on a company computer. If you are emailing information, always use a personal account for both sending and receiving. Although your employer might actually be supportive of your situation, it is always best to act cautiously by protecting yourself and the information you have gathered. 

Try to find witnesses

Having at least one witness to testify on your behalf will be very helpful. Obviously, another person who saw or heard what you went through will be powerful corroboration. A witness who saw you being upset immediately after speaking with the offender will also be helpful as this can be evidence to support your testimony..

While building a strong case for yourself before presenting a complaint is of great advantage for you, having all this information is not mandatory. 

If you were a victim of harassment but you were unable to gather all this information for any reason, you can still bring the issue up to your employer’s attention. It is a requirement by law, that they conduct a thorough investigation to provide a resolution. You may also file a complaint with the Washington State of Human Rights Commission.

These are all the requirements that employers must comply with regarding workplace harassment:

Requirements for employers under Washington State Law

The following is required to all employers with 8 or more employees, including employment agencies, state and local governments:

  • Develop a proactive workplace program and an anti-harassment policy with zero tolerance regarding sexual harassment issues.
  • Establish a complaint procedure that is clear and corrects misconduct by investigating and documenting all charges.
  • Employees must be able to raise a complaint without any fear of retaliation. 
  • Investigate all complaints in a prompt and thorough manner.
  • Make all employees aware of their rights, including the procedure for reporting harassment incidents.
  • Educate and train employees at all levels (including managers and supervisors) regarding professional and responsible behavior in the workplace as well as appropriate procedures to report harassment incidents.

Training employees is one of the most important steps in the journey towards a healthy work environment. Employers should utilize training that is effective. Handing out a written manual every couple of years to check the box on a “to do list” will not accomplish much. You need relevant, constant and interactive training for everyone in the workplace. How can you do it?

Providing the right training

EasyLlama is the top-compliance training platform that delivers just what your company needs to build a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination. We offer training material that meets all of the regulations required to stay in compliance with the Washington State Harassment laws.

Our program is the solution to the most common concerns regarding training effectiveness; Easy access to material (use on any device), real-time tracking, interactive quizzes and real-life scenarios to make sure every employee has an engaging experience.

With one of the most affordable prices in the market, we make it easy for your company to stay compliant. Join us today!