Only a handful of sexual harassment incidents are reported to the King County Human Resources Division every year, which County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles and others argue is due to underreporting. Photo from the 2018 Seattle Women’s March by Cindy Shebley/Flickr

Only a handful of sexual harassment incidents are reported to the King County Human Resources Division every year, which County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles and others argue is due to underreporting. Photo from the 2018 Seattle Women’s March by Cindy Shebley/Flickr

King County Council passes sexual harassment reform policy

Specifics of each agency’s protocols and funding for training still need to be sorted out.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the King County Council unanimously passed an ordinance on Monday, June 25 that requires the county government overhaul its sexual harassment policies. Now comes the hard part—actually achieving structural change in a county bureaucracy consisting of over 14,000 employees.

Introduced earlier this month by Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill mandates that the county council and all of the various county departments and agencies rewrite their sexual harassment and discrimination policies, which haven’t been updated since 2002.

Specifically, the ordinance calls upon agencies and elected officials to develop new definitions of sexual harassment, assault, and “inappropriate conduct,” establish procedures for reporting and addressing incidents of such misconduct—such as establishing an informal reporting process for incidents that don’t necessarily meet the legal standard of harassment—and produce cost estimates for training county employees and managers in the new policies. Per the legislation, agencies also have to use the findings and recommendations from the 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report on workplace harassment as a blueprint for crafting their new policies.

“We will be rebooting our existing efforts to have a inclusive, safe, and respectful workplace for all employees,” Kohl-Welles said prior to the vote. “Approval of this legislation means that we will really be walking our talk.”

The various branches of government will then have to report back to the council in September with their updated protocols, as well as deliver biennial updates on the number of filed harassment or discrimination complaints to help measure the effectiveness of the new procedures.

Part of the impetus for bringing forward the legislation was the statistically improbable low number of reported sexual harassment incidents received by the county’s human resources department. According to Cameron Satterfield, a spokesperson for the Human Resources Division, only one case of sexual harassment was reported to human resources in 2015, one in 2016, and none were filed in 2017, which councilmember Kohl-Welles and advocates argue is most likely due to chronic underreporting, not the nonexistence of incidents of misconduct.

When the measure was first introduced on June 6, judges from the King County District Court system pushed back against the legislation, arguing that any directive issued towards the courts by the council would be undermine notions of judicial independence in the public eye. After hearing those concerns, the council adjusted the legislation to request that the courts merely give “consideration” to the ordinance.

Even after the various departments update their policies, funding still has to be identified to provide initial and ongoing training sessions. Before the vote, Council member Claudia Balducci (a co-sponsor of the ordinance) told Seattle Weekly that the fall’s upcoming county budgeting process will ultimately determine the teeth of the ordinance in the long-term. “The next thing we’re going to have to do is figure out a budget,” she said. “One of the pitfalls when you implement a new policy is you train everybody and check the box and you move on,” said Balducci. “You have to keep on re-enforcing it with everybody. That takes a lot of effort which means staff time and resources.”

As Balducci put it, “We have to show that we’re serious.”

More in News

Football coaches butt heads: Mount Si and Mount Vernon coaches display unsportsmanlike behaviors

Both school districts are investigating the behavior of their coaches following state playoff game.

Snoqualmie Casino staff members surround a gaming table in the new private gaming room at Snoqualmie Casino. Photo courtesy of Tarah Smigun
Snoqualmie Casino gets private gaming room

The addition is the final casino upgrade of 2018.

Snoqualmie Council approves Salish expansion project master plan application

The Salish Lodge and Spa Expansion project has passed another milestone on the path to construction.

King County considers how to invest in Snoqualmie River flood infrastructure

County representatives met in North Bend to talk with residents about an investment plan.

Veteran’s, Josh Harris and Asa Palagi start security company in early 2018 called Cascadia Global Security. Photo courtesy of CGS.
Two veterans launch private security company

Asa Palagi and Josh Harris start Cascadia Global Security to provide personalized security

North Bend completes full renovation of NE 12th Street

North Bend has completed a long time priority project, the improvement of NE 12th Street.

Sallal announced that they made repairs to the vandalized water tank on Nov. 3. They are still awaiting test results before lifting the no drink order. Photo courtesy of Sallal Water Association
Police interview teen in connection to water tower vandalism

The affected North Bend Homes are still under a no drink order as Sallal runs further tests.

Kim Schrier and Dino Rossi met at their first and only debate at Central Washington University where they clashed over health care, gun safety, taxes, and more. Photo courtesy of David Dick, CWU
Schrier leads Rossi in preliminary results

Schrier has more than 55 percent of the vote.

Callan and Ramos lead Legislative District 5 races

Results are preliminary and could change as additional ballots are counted

Most Read