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Washington Lawmakers Sponsor Bills to Take Sexual Harassment Out of the Workplace

— February 2, 2018

Lawmakers in Washington state are making moves to out-maneuver sexual harassment in the workplace.

According to the Peninsula Daily News, a Senate committee oversaw the introduction of several bills aiming to limit sexual coercion on the job. Among the proposals are a ban on non-disclosure agreements in cases relating to sexual harassment, as well as a requirement for employers to permit their workers the right to file sexual harassment complaints.

On top of that, the legislation, if passed into law, would enact a blanket ban on workplace bullying.

SB 5996, sponsored by Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), would prohibit employers from requiring non-disclose agreements in cases of arbitration pertaining to sexual harassment cases. And even if companies were to enclose such clauses in otherwise binding contracts, it’d be rendered void in or by a court of law.

Washington, writes the Peninsula Daily News, is an at-will employment state – meaning either an employee or employer can terminate an individual job, at any time, and for any legally permissible reason. Another bill being sponsored by Keiser, SB 6313, requires employment contracts broader than non-disclosure agreements to preserve the right of an individual to file sexual harassment and assault complaints in court.

And another of Keiser’s creations, SB 6471, would create a work group through the Human Rights Commission to develop a model detailing how best to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sen. David Frockt (D-N. Seattle/Lake Forest Park/Kenmore) is sponsoring SB 6068, which also pertains to non-disclosure agreements. Under Frockt’s bill, non-disclosure agreements couldn’t be used to prevent victims of sexual harassment or assault from testifying in civil or criminal suits. Moreover, the courts would be required to retain the identity of the victim, unless they gave consent for disclosure.

Washington State Sen. Keiser. Image via Washington State Legislature website.

“There would be no “Me Too” movement in this country if women were not allowed to complain and speak up if they need to,” said Washington Employment Lawyers Association attorney Katie Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, writes the Peninsula¸ supports the senate bills being pushed forward by Frockt and Keiser – but said somebody needs to address the problem of arbitration clauses.

Controversial and subject to some restrictions in certain states, arbitration clauses contained in employment contracts can force employees to waive their right to take an employer to court. Rather than settling a matter before a judge, workers are made to arbitrate in a private setting. Outcomes in arbitration cases tend to be much less favorable than judgments stemming from a suit.

Trying to ensure protection for all, Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), addresses workplace bullying in a broader sense through SB 6435.

Cleveland’s bill provides a definition for the term “abusive workplace environment” and provides ‘narrower liability standards,’ according to the Peninsula. Cleveland says her legislation is important because it protects employees who may run afoul of abuse, but not fall into any of the protected categories outlined by law.


Workplace bullying and sexual harassment bills go before lawmakers

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