In response to the #MeToo movement, lawmakers in several states are introducing bills aimed at curbing workplace sexual harassment and addressing how complaints and resolutions are handled by employers. Washington is no exception, and the Washington state Legislature has passed three bills focused on new laws relating to sexual harassment. Each bill is briefly summarized below.
Public Disclosure of Sexual Harassment Claims
Senate Bill 5996 prohibits an employer from preventing its employees from publicly disclosing sexual harassment or sexual assault occurring in the workplace. However, the bill states that it does not prevent confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements, even as they relate to sexual assault or harassment allegations. This bill passed the state legislature and is awaiting Governor Inslee’s signature.
Immediate Prohibition on Confidential Arbitration Provisions in Employment Contracts
Senate Bill 6313 voids provisions of employment contracts that require employees to waive their right to “publicly pursue” a discrimination complaint under Washington or federal law. More importantly, the bill voids provisions of employment agreements that “require an employee to resolve claims of discrimination in a dispute resolution process that is confidential” In other words, employment agreements requiring confidential arbitration are void under this law. The law, if signed by Governor Inslee, is likely to be challenged on federal preemption grounds. This bill also passed the state legislature and awaits Governor Inslee’s signature.
Best Practices and Model Policies
Senate Bill 6471 requires the Washington Human Rights Commission to draft best practices and model policies regarding workplace sexual harassment. Like the aforementioned bills, Senate Bill 6471 passed the state legislature and is awaiting Governor Inslee’s signature.