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Spokane County revamps sexual harassment policy

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 5, 2017, 8:06 p.m.

All Spokane County employees will be required to undergo sexual harassment training under a policy adopted by the county commissioners on Tuesday.

The new policy comes at a time of heightened awareness of workplace sexual harassment that has resulted in the downfall of many high-profile figures, from Hollywood to Congress to morning television.

“I think what we’re seeing in the media is a reminder that sexual harassment is a real problem in many organizations,” said Tim Hansen, Spokane County’s human resources director.

But Hansen said the county’s policy was in the works well before the recent surge of headlines. He said it’s one of many policies that are being revamped as part of the county’s strategic plan.

Sexual harassment was previously covered under the same set of rules and procedures that applied to other forms of harassment and discrimination.

“Our goal was to create a policy that’s a little easier to understand and access for our employees,” Hansen said.

In addition to the harassment training every two years – which previously wasn’t required countywide – the new policy outlines both formal and informal procedures for investigating and responding to claims. It also bars accused employees from retaliating against their accusers, an act that could result in the accused being fired.

The new policy also states that the county will not pay for legal representation for employees involved in sexual harassment cases. No similar clause was included in the previous policy, which was adopted in 2011.

Employees are asked to document and submit claims as quickly as possible. Under the formal investigation procedure, a human resources investigator “will make every effort to complete the investigation within 60 working days,” the policy states. After that, it could take a month or more for the investigator’s report to be approved by the HR director and forwarded to a department head or elected official for possible disciplinary action.

“Discipline, if warranted, may range from an oral reprimand to termination,” the policy states.

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