— State agencies must adopt uniform policies on sexual harassment and provide worker training for supervisors and new employees, Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday.
Scott said he issued an executive order to better protect state employees under his control and because of the cascade of reports of sexual harassment in politics, entertainment, media and business.
“It is absolutely disgusting to hear the numerous accounts of sexual harassment happening across the country,” Scott said. “Everyone deserves to work in an environment that is safe and free from any form of harassment.”
Scott’s order requires all new agency employees to receive training addressing sexual harassment within 30 days of starting work and unspecified “additional training” for supervisors; the designation of specific agency employees who will receive complaints; and a “prompt review” of them.
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“There’s some pretty good stuff in here,” said Rick Johnson, a Tallahassee attorney who represents victims in sexual harassment cases. Calling Scott’s order long overdue, he praised it for requiring a complaint to be handled by someone other than an employee’s direct supervisor.
“The supervisor might be the harasser,” Johnson said.
The timing of the order was questioned by Democrats, who are hoping to capitalize on the issue against Republicans.
“How is this just now happening in 2017?” said Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, on Twitter. “How many state agencies don’t have harassment complaint policies?”
Democrats running for office next year are eagerly sharing their plans to address sexual harassment. Last week, Graham said she would appoint an independent ombudsman to receive complaints about workplace behavior.
While unveiling his own approach to the issue last week, Chris King, another Democratic candidate for governor, dismissed Graham’s proposal.
“It’s not enough,” King said.
Instead, King said the state Legislature needs to require uniform procedures for reporting and investigating sexual misconduct. King proposed a newly created state Office of Victim Advocacy, to ensure that all accusations of sexual harassment “are taken seriously.”
Scott’s brief executive order applies only to employees who work in state agencies, not the Legislature or courts or cities or counties.
“Every agency was doing it a little bit differently,” Scott told reporters Wednesday. “What this did was set up a process where we have clear expectations what the training would be, what the reporting process would be.”
About 110,000 people work full time in state government in Florida. The largest employer by far is the state prison system, with 24,000 budgeted positions in the Department of Corrections.
Other large agencies are the departments of health, children and families, revenue and highway safety.
Scott’s order came nine days after his own appointee to the Florida Public Service Commission, former state Rep. Ritch Workman of Melbourne, abruptly quit his $131,000-a-year post after being accused of sexual harassment by Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto, R-Fort Myers, who said Workman harassed her at a public charity event last year.
Benacquisto is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which is required to confirm PSC appointees. She said last week that her committee would not confirm Workman, which would prevent him from serving.
Official scheduling records from Scott’s office show he and Benacquisto met the afternoon of Nov. 7 in Scott’s office in the state Capitol. Scott declined Wednesday to say whether Benacquisto told him about Workman’s behavior during that meeting.
“I don’t go into conversations I have with members of the Legislature,” Scott told reporters.
Scott, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, signed legislation in June (HB 397) that keeps confidential the name of an alleged victim of sexual harassment. That exemption applies to investigations by state agencies.
Since Scott became governor in January 2011, the state has paid $413,750 to settle seven separate cases of sexual harassment in agencies under Scott’s control, in which allegations were made after Scott took office.
The largest settlement, for $128,750, was with an employee for the Department of Health.
Three cases involved the Department of Corrections. The others involved the Department of Transportation, Business and Professional Regulation, and Children & Families.
Scott’s order comes as the state Capitol remains preoccupied by an investigation of sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
A retired appeals court judge, Ronald Swanson, has been conducting interviews and will compile a report on the Latvala case for the Senate to consider.
“There will be reports and there will be a final resolution,” said Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
Negron said the Senate has a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual harassment.
In a six-page memo to all employees, the Department of State policy defines sexual harassment in part as “unwelcome requests or demands for sexual favors or unwelcome sexual advances; non-consensual touching of another person’s body, including kissing, rubbing, pinching, patting, hugging, groping or intentionally brushing against the person’s body; repeated requests for dates or invitations to social events (and) using sexually degrading or insulting words or innuendos to describe an individual.”
Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @stevebousquet.