Philly voters to decide if city workers will be trained to prevent sexual harassment

If enough voters approve, all city employees will be required to complete the training at least once every three years.

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown initiated the ballot question that asks voters,

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown initiated the ballot question that asks voters, "Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for mandatory training for all City officers and employees regarding sexual harassment in the workplace?" (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Since the #MeToo movement has gained momentum over the last nine months, corporations across the country and in Philadelphia are evaluating their policies on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. Many employees have sat through training sessions on the topic.

But for city workers in Philadelphia — which does have a prevention policy — there’s no mandatory training in place.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown — along with Councilwomen Jannie Blackwell, Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez, Cherelle Parker, Cindy Bass, and Helen Gym — is trying to change that.

On May 15, Philadelphia primary voters will be asked about changing the city charter to require that all city employees, elected and appointed, take part in training to prevent sexual harassment.

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“We felt it was time to take a significant step in the right direction to ensure that our city government was fostering a work place free of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct,” said Brown.

While training won’t end sexual harassment, Brown said, when city employees are more aware of existing policies and what constitutes sexual harassment, they’ll be more likely to come forward and speak up about inappropriate behavior.

And with the #MeToo Movement continuing, she said, the time is ripe for a change in the law.

“I think women across the board, irrespective of race, color, gender, profession, industry, have been awakened and in some instances reawakened around sexual harassment,” said Brown.

If enough voters approve the ballot question, all city employees would be required to complete the training at least once every three years.

Although Brown could not give an estimate for how much the training would cost, she said City Council and the mayor’s office would find the appropriate city funds to make it happen.

City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, who also supports the charter change, testified before City Council back in February.

“In the wake of the #MeToo movement, revelations about the culture at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, allegations about inappropriate behavior at the sheriff’s office, and a recent $1.2 million payout by the police department — the time has come for the voice of sexual harassment victims to be heard,” said Rhynhart.

In January, the controller’s office began a performance audit of the city’s sexual harassment and misconduct policy. That includes examining the process for reporting allegations, reviewing how incidents are handled and tracking payments made by the city related to sexual misconduct.

Rhynhart’s expects high-quality, mandatory anti-sexual harassment training to be one of the recommendations from the audit that she expects to be released within the next month.

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