2019 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
Reducing Workplace Sexual Harassment
We support efforts to reduce workplace sexual harassment through mandatory training and policies. This will have a particularly positive impact on workers in low-wage industries, such as hotel workers, restaurant workers, domestic workers, and farmworkers.
Background: The #MeToo movement created an important platform for survivors of sexual violence, especially workplace sexual violence, to raise their voices and demand change. But, too often, the broader movement has left out the voices of those in low-wage industries rife with sexual harassment, assault, and exploitative practices. Discrimination and systemic barriers have resulted in a disproportionate number of women, immigrants, and people of color working in these industries. Women in these industries particularly experience alarming rates of sexual harassment. For example, studies reveal that 80% of women farmworkers and 90% of women restaurant workers experience sexual harassment.
Workers in these industries are forced to endure this harassment because their employers prey on their vulnerabilities, such as their immigration status, their lack of job options, or the fact that they are living in poverty. Further, low-wage workers often do not know their rights, due in large part to language barriers and cultural differences. Knowing what is inappropriate, illegal behavior is a powerful tool in ending workplace sexual harassment.
Legal Voice worked in coalition with Casa Latina, ROC Seattle, UNITE HERE Local 8, and the Washington Coalition to Eliminate Farmworker Sexual Harassment to draft a bill with specific protections for some of our state's most vulnerable workers. The bill sought to reduce sexual harassment by requiring Washington employers, across all industries, to adopt sexual harassment policies and conduct sexual harassment training for all staff, including owners, supervisors and employees. The legislation also would have improved typical sexual harassment training based on recent studies that have indicated better content and methods for training to be effective, and would have tailored the training to the needs of low wage workers such as through language and cultural relevancy requirements and strong enforcement mechanisms.
While we are disheartened that the bill did not get a hearing and will not progress this session, we are pleased to see a similar—but more limited—bill gaining traction. The Isolated Workers Bill (SB 5258) similarly requires employers to adopt sexual harassment policies and provide training to supervisors and staff. The bill also requires employers to provide panic buttons to certain workers who primarily work alone or with one or two other people; this provision is a reflection of our community's advocacy for Seattle hotel workers. However, SB 5258 applies to a more limited number of employers, and excludes explicit protections for domestic workers and farmworkers. We will continue to advocate for the provisions in our original bill, and are working with legislative champions to lay groundwork for the 2020 session.
Update as of 4/10/2019: SB 5258 passed the Senate with a unanimous vote, and passed the House with a 57–35 vote! The bill now heads to Gov. Inslee's desk to be signed into law. Though our desired bill did not make it over the first hurdle this session (as described above) we are pleased that legislative champions held a work session on this issue on March 18th and invited Legal Voice and our allies to testify.
Bill info: SB 5258