Sexual harassment affects hundreds of thousands of people each year all across the country, permanently affecting people’s emotional and mental stability, careers, reputations, and an untold amount of other aspects of life.
The best we can do is continuously try to update our laws to protect those vulnerable from sexual harassment and try to move towards eradicating it completely. At the federal level, all workers are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment in all states. However, even this iconic law has its limitations, and states have had to come up with their own laws at the state-level to fill in the gaps
Washington’s sexual harassment laws
RCW 49.60.180 is Washington state’s law that explicitly prohibits sexual harassment and other forms of workplace injustice and discrimination. This law allows employees to file claims with the Washington State Human Rights Commission and file lawsuits against employers accused of sexual harassment.
Although it doesn’t require it, it does advise/recommend that all employers put a reasonable amount of effort into preventing sexual harassment and disparate treatment of others in the workplace by notifying employees of their rights, having concrete protocols on dealing with complaints, and develop clear policies on preventing sexual harassment in their work environment. Each county will have a different recommended set of guidelines for employers.
Recent development in Washington’s sexual harassment law
Beginning in 2021, all employers hotels, motels, security agencies, and companies that have remote workers will now have to have policies that protect their workers from sexual harassment and other discrimination. Before this development, only companies with 50 or more employees adhered to the various regulations.
Defining sexual harassment in Washington
Because of the vast dynamics of the workplace and the different social situations that come with it, there are many grey areas when it comes to sexual harassment. Some workplace scenarios that could be considered a legitimate form of sexual harassment are:
- Unwanted sexual advances, whether it’s touching, patting, or something more aggressive like rape or sexual assault
- Rude, lewd comments, whether written or verbal. Hanging of sexually explicit photos that create a hostile environment
- “Quid-pro-quo” sexual harassment whereby an employer or higher ranking employee tries to trade some sort of job benefit for sexual favors. Job benefits can be pay raises, promotions, awards. If a victim turns down the offer and then experiences some sort of consequence, they could have solid ground for a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Some things that likely wouldn’t be considered sexual harassment are:
- Asking someone out on a date, especially if it just happened once
- Consensual relationships or “hookups”
- Nonsexual compliments
- Eye contact
Are you dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit in Washington?