Seattle Mayor orders extensive review of city's harassment policies | KUOW News and Information

Seattle Mayor orders extensive review of city's harassment policies

Jan 26, 2018

The city of Seattle is launching an extensive review of its workplace harassment and discrimination policies.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has ordered the formation of a team to make recommendations on anti-harassment training, reporting mechanisms and personnel rules for city employees.

She's also mandating annual anti-harassment training for all city workers.

The move comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has put a spotlight on sexual harassment and assault. It also comes amid concerns about workplace culture within city departments.

In a letter to city employees (included below), Durkan acknowledged that city workers have endured harassment and discrimination on the job.

“Harassment is an issue that we know has been prevalent in every kind of work situation, and I know that our City employees have reported suffering discrimination and harassment, including racial and sexual harassment, in the workplace. A work environment where employees experience harassment on any basis is antithetical to our City’s commitment to workforce equity and racial and social justice,” she said in the letter.

The interdepartmental team making recommendations will include councilmember Teresa Mosqueda or a representative from her office, staff from the mayor's office, and labor representatives.

In a statement, Mosqueda said this is the first step towards changing norms and workplace culture as well as policies.

“We must be bold in our actions and act with urgency and compassion to listen to those who have been silenced or ignored, and ensure that every worker and workplace is free of harassment, assault, and retaliation. That starts at City Hall, we must lead by example, and I look forward to working with workers, departments, the Mayor and Council to make these changes,” Mosqueda said.

The team will make recommendations by the end of May, according to Durkan’s office. They’ll use worker feedback collected in a city-wide survey as part of their decision making process.

But Durkan said she doesn’t want to wait to implement change.

“We’re not willing to wait on change while we do our review. Our immediate next steps include eliminating settlements within departments, implementing mandatory anti-harassment training, and conducting a citywide employee survey, which I hope you will participate in,” she said in her letter to workers.

Durkan signaled in December that she wanted to make changes to the city’s harassment policies. In a letter to her cabinet she noted that the current procedures for investigating and resolving harassment complaints from city employees was adopted in 1994.

Durkan also said the current system is problematic.

“I have deep concerns that there is not a single system for investigating, resolving, tracking and broadly understanding employees’ experiences of harassment in the City,” she wrote in December.

In the letter sent to all city employees this week, Durkan said the city can do better.

“The City must hold itself accountable for ensuring that harassment in the workplace is addressed in a timely and appropriate fashion.”  

--

See the full text of Durkan’s letter to city employees below:

Dear City Employees,

When I took office, I committed to making our City a safe, welcoming, and inclusive workplace. We have received lots of input on how we can make Seattle one of the best places to work.  I want you to know we are taking significant steps to revamp the City’s harassment policies, which includes both short-term and long-term solutions. Working directly with employees, the City Council, and department leaders, we will review all of our harassment and discrimination policies to create more accountability and transparency.

Harassment is an issue that we know has been prevalent in every kind of work situation, and I know that our City employees have reported suffering discrimination and harassment, including racial and sexual harassment, in the workplace. A work environment where employees experience harassment on any basis is antithetical to our City’s commitment to workforce equity and racial and social justice. 

Let me be clear: The City considers harassment of an individual an unfair employment practice, whether it is verbal, visual, or physical harassment based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, disability, or other categories protected by law. Throughout the City, we have HR professionals who work with the highest level of integrity to ensure harassment complaints are addressed with a sense of urgency, safety, and transparency. Though they are doing important work on training and reporting, I know we can all do better.  

The City will be doing an extensive evaluation of our approach to workplace harassment. To properly evaluate policy changes and allow for an extensive review of our policies, I’ve tasked an Inter-Departmental Team (IDT) composed of Mayor’s Office staff, Councilmember Mosqueda or her representative, and labor representatives. This IDT will make recommendations by the end of May using employee feedback from an upcoming RSJI survey. I also want to make sure you are aware of the processes we have in place today. You can find that information attached.

But we’re not willing to wait on change while we do our review. Our immediate next steps include eliminating settlements within departments, implementing mandatory anti-harassment training, and conducting a citywide employee survey, which I hope you will participate in.

We must strive for a work environment where all people, regardless of their background or identity, feel comfortable and are treated with dignity and respect. The City must hold itself accountable for ensuring that harassment in the workplace is addressed in a timely and appropriate fashion. As we implement this work, we must lead with race and social justice to ensure that voices often overlooked are central to the solution. I hope you’ll share your honest feedback with me, so that we can execute a plan to lead the City to create a safe, respectful, and equitable work environment.

Sincerely,  

Mayor Jenny Durkan