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

Kailan Manandic / staff photo 
                                The Mercerdale Park remains free of development as the city and MICA focuses on a new location at the former Tully’s Coffee site.
City council to terminate plans for Mercerdale development

The city directed staff to seek mutual termination of a 2016 MOU to develop within Mercerdale Park.

Kailan Manandic / staff photo 
                                The city council took a preliminary step toward developing a fiscal sustainability plan at the April 16 meeting.
City council reviewed fiscal sustainability plan options

Currently, city staff are examining the options to determine what is feasible for the city.

April 2019 special election preliminary results

LWSD levy passing; Fall City fire merger and hospital bond coming up short.

Foundations covering counselor costs

Announcement comes in wake of Prop. 1 loss last November.

Photo courtesy of Snoqualmie Valley Education Association Facebook page
                                Eastside educators were appalled over an amendment made to SB 5313. The effects could have reduced teacher compensation and limited bargaining abilities. The bill recently died.
Late night Senate amendments shock local teachers

An amendment to SB 5313 prompted teacher unions to voice concerns.

Kailan Manandic/staff photo
                                Officials break ground outside Salt House Church for the Eastside’s first permanent women and family shelter. Workers hope to complete construction in 2020.
Eastside’s first permanent shelter breaks ground in Kirkland

The shelter will serve single women and families with children who are experiencing homelessness.

Candidate workshop set for April 24

In-person candidate filing starts May 13.

Sound Transit crews are nearly finished with the Mercer Island Station as the East Link project hits 50 percent completion. The station will be one of 10 between Seattle and Redmond served by the Blue Line in 2023. Kailan Manandic / staff photo
East Link hits 50 percent milestone: Blue Line to open in 2023

Sound Transit crews celebrated the 50 percent completion of East Link this month.

Most Read