The Seattle City Council was set to vote on a bill that would strengthen the city’s whistleblower protections. Although the city encourages everyone to report incidents of misconduct, the protections are specifically for city employees reporting workplace misconduct. The bill was expected to pass and make significant changes.
Whistleblower Protection Code: Before
Seattle’s whistleblower code was last updated in 1994, even though Washington state and King County have updated their codes more recently. Seattle’s Whistleblower Protection Code provides city employees protection from retaliation for reporting workplace misconduct. The city’s website explains what is considered misconduct and that not all complaints are protected, only those that in good faith report actual misconduct. The website also clearly describes the process for filing a complaint, the protections provided, what constitutes retaliation, and an employee’s rights and responsibilities in reporting retaliation.
In its current form, city employees who believe they have been retaliated against for whistleblowing must submit a written statement to the Office of the Mayor within 30 days of the believed retaliatory action. The Mayor would then forward the complaint to the head of whichever department is involved or the Mayor would handle the investigation, if the department head is accused of retaliation. This system has the department that is accused of allowing misconduct to investigate itself, which can on occasion lead to further retaliation or misconduct.
Whistleblower Protection Code: Now (If Approved)
According to the Seattle Times article, with the bill’s passage whistleblower retaliation complaints would now go to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. The Commission is an independent body and would handle investigating the complaints itself. While the possibility of further retaliation or misconduct is one reason for the change, there is another driving factor. The article discusses some whistleblower statistics that illustrate the prevalence of both misconduct and retaliation nationwide. It also noted that only 10 retaliation complaints were investigated in the last four years. The hope behind this new provision is that more people will report both misconduct and retaliation because an independent third party will be investigating, instead of the whistleblower’s boss.
The updated provisions would also provide a longer period for reporting retaliation, six months instead of 30 days, and two paths to resolve retaliation claims, a “streamlined review by a city hearing examiner” or a civil lawsuit. The new code would also expand the protections to include those employees who help with an investigation and those who raise issue with misconduct, but may not officially complain, which is similar to most employment retaliation protection laws. It also allow for more remedy options beyond being rehired and attorney’s fees.
Despite the recent headlines covering the many government whistleblowers, government employees are not the only individuals who can and should bring light to misconduct. A whistleblower is any employee who points out violations of rules, codes, or laws, including unfair labor practices, discrimination, and harassment. If you belief you have suffered from retaliation for reporting wrongdoings at your employment, contact an employment law attorney for help.