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Councilmember drafting new sexual harassment policy in wake of #MeToo

FILE - In this Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 file photo, a marcher carries a sign with the popular Twitter hashtag #MeToo used by people speaking out against sexual harassment as she takes part in a Women's March in Seattle (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles recently asked the human resources department about sexual harassment.

“The question was: Hey, do we ever have any sexual harassment here at King County when it comes to some of the people working in King County?” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley sarcastically. “Apparently, the answer’s no. Moving on, next topic.”

The answer shocked Kohl-Welles, especially in the midst of the #MeToo movement, and considering King County’s more than 15,000 employees. The current system of reporting sexual harassment gives employees the option of filing a complaint or doing nothing, reports The Seattle Times. That black-and-white system may be preventing people from coming forward. She wants to change that.

RELATED: Washington governor signs package of bills sparked by #MeToo

“They have 15,000 employees. Can that be right?” said KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney. “That only a handful have ever raised the issue? As it turns out, no unfortunately we are finding out — much like the rest of the country — that sexual harassment is not as rare a thing as it was purported to be.”

Kohl-Welles is proposing to open up new pathways for reporting sexual harassment, so victims feel more comfortable coming forward. The new policy would open additional channels for reporting multiple levels of harassment, seeks to improve employer-related training, and includes clearer definitions of discrimination and harassment.

#MeToo inspiring numerous state and local laws

The policy proposal comes in the wake of a Seattle City Council ordinance giving more time to file such complaints. The last legislative session also produced a measure to ban nondisclosure agreements related to sexual harassment complaints, and any subsequent employee retaliation.

Kohl-Welles will present the new sexual-harassment policy to the King County Council this week.

“It’ll be interesting to see a year from now what their numbers look like,” said Curley.

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