Washington State Updates Several Workplace Laws Effective June 7, 2018


1.Disclosure and Discussion of Sexual Harassment and Assault (S.B. 5996)
Senate Bill 5996 supports “the disclosure and discussion of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace”. Employees may no longer be required to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), waiver, or any other document as a condition of employment that blocks  the employee from discussing sexual assault or sexual harassment occurring in the workplace including at work-related events. HR and other supervisors are still required to maintain confidentiality as part of their role or as requested during ongoing investigations.

Settlement agreements may still contain confidentiality provisions under this law and it does not prohibit confidentiality provisions within settlement agreements.

Potential Actions:

  • If you currently have a NDA or other required document that blocks sexual harassment or sexual assault related discussions, we encourage you discuss the agreement with your employment law attorney to ensure your documents are enforceable.
  • Update supervisor  and HR  job descriptions to include duty to maintain sensitive and confidential information.
  • Review existing required documentation for clauses that block non-supervisory or HR employees from discussing sexual assault or sexual harassment.

2. Gender Pay Equity Expansion (H.B. 1506)
House Bill 1506 expands current Federal Equal Pay Act protections. The new law prohibits pay discrimination based on gender between similarly employed employees working for the same employer, limiting or depriving career advancement opportunities to an employee on the basis of gender, and prohibits employers from requiring employees to sign waivers disallowing wage discussions or  retaliating against employees for discussing wages.

Employees are considered similarly employed if they work for the same employer, exert similar efforts, responsibility, skill, and with comparable working conditions.

If compensation differentials exist, employers must show they are based on bona fide job related factors that are in good faith and consistent with business necessity.

Potential Actions:

  • Update Employment application and remove salary history questions
  • Update wording in employee handbook and policies that prohibit discussions regarding pay and update with gender neutral wording
  • Consider establishing Pay Ranges or standardized steps for each position
  • Create and/or review job descriptions paying close attention to education, work history and specific skills

3.Protecting survivors of Domestic Assault from Employment  Discrimination (H.B. 2661)
House Bill 2661 protects survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking from employment discrimination and now considers them members of a protected class. Employers may not discriminate against an applicant or employee because they are an actual or perceived victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Additionally, employers may not refuse to make reasonable safety accommodations requested by the individual unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship.

Potential Actions:

  • Update handbooks to include survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking as a  protected class.
  • Inform supervisors or other appropriate staff  of the update.

4. Ban the Box (H.B. 1298)
House Bill 1298 prohibits employers from asking applicants about arrest or conviction records prior to determining if the individual is a qualified candidate. This includes asking about convictions on an Employment Application.  Additionally, employers may not have a policy that automatically excludes those with a criminal record with the exception of positions with unsupervised access to children under the age of 18.

Potential Actions:

    • Revise your employment application to exclude questions related to arrest or conviction records
    • Ensure interviewers are asking appropriate questions during the interview process

5.Immediate Prohibition on Confidential Arbitration Provisions in Employment Contracts (S.B. 6313)
Senate Bill 6313 voids provisions of employment contracts that require employees to waive their right to publicly pursue discrimination complaints, or that require an employee to “resolve claims of discrimination in a dispute resolution process that is confidential”.  Under the new law, employment agreements may not require confidential arbitration.

 Potential Action:

      • If you have an employment agreement, have your employment law attorney review for compliance with this new law.

The Human Resources professionals from JB Consulting Systems are available to further discuss the upcoming changes, answer questions, or review your current policies and practices for compliance.