Sandra Bledsoe

Washington State Sexual Harassment Law: Everything You Need to Know

Washington State Sexual Harassment Law includes the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) which forbids practices, especially at workplaces, that discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation, gender, or marital status. Sexual harassment and sex discrimination are illegal and violate the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law is applicable at all workplaces, including local and State Governments, the Federal Government, labor organizations, etc.

In most sexual harassment cases, the abuser is male, and the victim is female. However, there are cases when victims are male and usually identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender. Sexual harassment does not necessarily happen between people of a different sex; it can and does happen when the victim and abuser are of the same sex or gender.  

For several years, various federal and state laws have been implemented to curb the instances of sexual harassment and discrimination in workplaces, schools, and other public spaces. As per the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, physical or verbal sexual actions, or requests for sexual favors. 

Washington State Sexual Harassment Law 

Washington State is placed as one of the progressive states of the country with its strict laws against sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. Sexual orientation in Washington is expressed in the laws as homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, and any gender identity or expression. 

The law covers all employees who work at public or private workplaces with more than eight employees. The gender identity of a person can be the gender assigned to them at birth or the self-image, appearance, expression, or identity perceived by them. Under this law, sexual harassment covers the following instances.

  • Physical harassment includes unwelcome gestures or touch.
  • Verbal harassment such as unwelcome requests, lewd remarks, and sounds, sexual favors, etc. 
  • Visual harassment, including showing sexual drawings, photos, etc. 

When establishing a claim of sexual harassment at workplaces, the act needs to be severe enough. Usually, a single case of physical harassment is considered enough to alter the terms and conditions of the victim’s employment. Other less offensive acts are considered sexual harassment when they are repeated frequently. 

Washington State also has a law against discrimination at workplaces. The laws are contained in Ch. 49.60 RCW (Revised Code of Washington). The law includes a prohibition against sexual discrimination at workplaces, including sexual harassment. If such an instance occurs, the victim can file a complaint or lawsuit at the Washington State Human Rights Commission or in the state court, respectively. The following cases are also included in sexual harassment.

The employee must submit to the requests or behavior of the harasser to keep their job, get a promotion, a better job opportunity, or any other kind of job benefit. The behavior of the harasser hinders the work performances of the victim, creating a hostile work environment that is intimidating for the victim.  

The employee has the legal right to sue an employer or workplace for the offensive work environment, quid pro quid sexual harassment, discriminating treatment based on the gender or sexual orientation of the person, or sexual harassment as per the law RCW 49.60.180. 

Advice for Employers

The employees should be aware of their rights. Along with that, the employers should establish the fact that the workplace does not tolerate any kind of sexual harassment. The policy put into action against sexual discrimination, and sexual harassment should be inclusive and formal while also being easy to understand by the employees. The complaint procedure that a victim needs to follow to file a complaint against any unwanted sexual advances at workplaces should be straightforward and sensible. 

With effective communication of policy, employers can eradicate the issue of sexual harassment from their workplaces and correct any behavior that supports sexual discrimination or harassment. Here are some of the ways employers can better implement an anti-sexual harassment policy at their workplace.      

  • Inform the employees

The employees should be aware of their rights regarding sexual harassment and discrimination. They should also know the procedure to file a complaint in case any such instance occurs. 

  • Train managers

The managers and supervisors at the workplace should be trained and educated regarding their responsibilities to prohibit any case of sexual harassment in the workplace. They should also be aware of the rules and regulations included in the anti-sexual harassment policy. 

  • Develop an anti-sexual harassment policy 

Employers must have a written anti-harassment policy that should be made available to each employee. The employer also needs to ensure that all the employees understand each term and condition that has been included in the policy. 

They should also get a signed statement that confirms that the employer understands the terms of the policy and agrees to comply with the rules of the workplace. The signed copy of the agreement should be placed in the personnel file of the respective employee. 

  • Create a sensible complaint procedure 

The employers should ensure that the complaint procedure, including handling complaints, investigating the case, and documenting the results and charges following the complaint, should be clear to all employees. 

The procedure should also detail how the misconduct is corrected and documented for future reference. It should be an open practice so that no employee feels discouraged while reporting misconduct. 

  • Investigation of complaints

Once the complaints are registered, the employers should make sure that the case is investigated thoroughly and without any delay. Once the investigation is completed and verified, they should take prompt action to remedy the situation.   

Washington State Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training 

Washington State requires that each workplace should implement sexual harassment training. In various sectors of industry, the practice of sexual harassment training was mandated as of January 1, 2020. These industries include retail corporations, hotels, property services, security guards, motels, and other such industries that employ at least one person. 

Training requirement for employers 

Under the legal requirement for sexual harassment training, employers need to have a written sexual harassment policy at their workplaces. They also need to ensure that it is implemented by educating and training the managers and employees regarding the terms of the policy. 

Employers need to provide all the employees with the resources that they can use in case an instance of sexual harassment occurs. These resources include the contact information of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Washington State Human Rights Commission. 

Training requirement for employees

The workplace must also be devised with an emergency contact device, such as a panic button, that the oppressed can press to summon other employees or managers. 

If an employee is a witness to another employee being harassed, then they should communicate with the harasser or the supervisor that the behavior was hostile and unwelcome. They should also report the incident to the management or the human resource department immediately. 

They can also report harassment to government agencies Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Washington State Human Rights Commission, and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.       

Most people have the misconception that sexual harassment is about sex. However, the truth is that any abuse or violence that stems from gender is considered sexual harassment. Knowing your rights and spreading information regarding the rules can effectively decrease the magnitude of sexual harassment.


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