Standards that must be met before Montgomery County residents can seek action against sexual harassment in the workplace now are lower, thanks to a unanimous vote by the Montgomery County Council on Oct. 6.
The legislation sponsored by Councilmember Will Jawando defines harassment and sexual harassment as actions that are more than a petty slight. Currently the standard is that the allegation must be severe or pervasive.
According to Jawando, sexual harassment in the workplace “is a pervasive problem.” He cited a 2018 study that said 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual harassment.
With the lower standards, “We are making the workplace more professional, more safe and more welcoming for everyone,” he said.
Christine Wellons, county legislative attorney, said the new legislation states that harassment “must be more than a trivial inconvenience, more than a minor annoyance.”
Under this legislation, harassment is defined to “include verbal, written, or physical conduct, regardless of whether the conduct would be considered sufficiently severe or pervasive under precedent applied to harassment claims.”
Sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, written, or physical conduct of a sexual nature, whether or not the conduct would be considered sufficiently severe or pervasive under precedent applied to harassment claims.”
“This is an issue that disproportionately affects women in the workplace, and it ties in with all of the critical work we have been doing in Montgomery County to eliminate disparities in equity based on gender, race, sexual orientation and other factors. Sexual harassment is not just uncomfortable, it is also frightening and traumatic,” Jawando noted.