WINCHESTER — Frederick County has expanded its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy to protect LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) and pregnant employees from discrimination and to provide more detail on what constitutes harassment.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the amended policy at its July 10 meeting at the recommendation of the county’s Human Resources Committee.
Frederick County Public Information Officer Karen Vacchio says the county government has 726 full-time and 250 part-time employees.
Discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex (including pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions and sex stereotyping), sexual orientation, genetic information, color, and military status have been added to the county’s existing policy, which already prohibited discrimination or harassment over race, religion, national origin, age, disability, marital status, protected veteran status, or any other protected characteristic under applicable law.
Vacchio said prohibiting discrimination for “sex stereotyping” and “genetic information” provides protection for transgender people. The previous version of the policy did not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. While the previous policy did provide protection against gender discrimination, it did not specify any protections for pregnant women or new mothers and only specifically protected veterans instead of military service in general.
“The reason for modification to the policy was just part of a general look at all our policies,” Vacchio said. “It is simply an update and wasn’t prompted by any issues.”
The amended policy provides more examples of what constitutes workplace harassment. The offensive or intimidating conduct may include, but is not limited to, “slurs, epithets, threats, derogatory comments or visual depictions, unwelcome jokes and teasing, stereotyping, insulting or obscene comments or gestures, display or circulation in the workplace or written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward the individual or group or other verbal or physical actions relating to an individual’s protected characteristic.”
While the old policy forbid sexual harassment and unwelcome sexual advances, the amended policy says sexual harassment includes:
Requests for sexual favors when submission to sexual conduct is an explicit or implicit term or condition of employment or where submission to or rejection of the conduct is used as the basis for an employment decision affecting the individual.
Unwanted or unwelcome physical contact or conduct of any kind, including patting, pinching, brushing up against, hugging, cornering, kissing, fondling or any other similar physical contact
Verbal abuse of a sexual nature, including sexual flirtations, advances, propositions, sexual innuendos, sexually suggestive, insulting or graphic comments, noises or sounds
Sexually explicit, suggestive or offensive jokes
The policy also forbids comments, the transmission of messages, and the distribution of pictures or objects that are demeaning, insulting, intimidating or sexually suggestive.
Frederick County employees who feel they have been subjected to, or have witnessed harassing behavior, should notify their supervisor, department head or director of human resources.
The county says it investigates complaints in a timely manner and that confidentiality is maintained as much as possible. Depending on the results of the investigation, the county may take corrective action up to and including immediate termination of the employee.
Frederick County forbids retaliating against any employee making a good faith complaint or cooperating fully and truthfully in an investigation.