Washington Sexual Harassment laws & HR compliance analysis

Washington Sexual Harassment: What you need to know

The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) prohibits employment practices that discriminate on the basis of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation (WA Rev. Code Sec. 49.60.010 et seq.). "Sexual orientation" is defined under the law as heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender expression or identity. "Gender expression or identity" means a person's actual or perceived gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not it differs from the gender identity traditionally associated with the sex assigned to the person at birth.
Sexual harassment. Discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual harassment. The law covers public employers and private employers with eight or more employees.
Sexual harassment can be:
• Physical, including unwelcome touching or gesturing
• Verbal, including unwelcome requests for a date or sexual favors, or lewd remarks or sounds
• Visual, including unwelcome exposure to sexual photos, cartoons, or drawings
In order to establish a claim of hostile work environment based on sexual harassment, the offensive conduct must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of the alleged victim's employment. Generally, the more severe and offensive the conduct, the less frequently it has to occur before it constitutes sexual harassment. In fact, courts have found that sexual harassment can occur with a single offensive act, if the conduct is sufficiently severe (e.g., acts that include physical contact). Less offensive acts, if repeated frequently, will also constitute sexual harassment.
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