Q. How is “whistleblower” defined under the law?
A whistleblower is “an employee who in good faith reports alleged improper governmental action to the auditor or other public official . . . initiating an investigation by the auditor under RCW 42.40.040.”
Q. What types of actions can be considered whistleblower retaliation?
Retaliation is a negative action taken against an employee by his/her employer because the employee filed a whistleblower complaint. Whistleblower retaliation may include demotion, reduction in assignments or work hours, denial of adequate staff to complete job duties, suspension, and denial of employment. In addition, depending on the facts of the case, retaliation can be other employment actions not consistent with actions taken before the whistleblower complaint was filed.
Q. What is the statute of limitations for filing a complaint based on whistleblower retaliation?
You have two years from last date of harm in which to file a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the WSHRC. Note that the statute of limitations for whistleblower retaliation complaints is much longer than the six month and one year limitations for other areas of our jurisdiction.
Q. Is my complaint with the WSHRC subject to public disclosure?
Most complaints filed with the SAO are not subject to public disclosure. However, complaints filed with the WSHRC are open to public disclosure after the case has been closed. During the investigation, the WSHRC will only release a copy of the filed complaint.
Q. What will happen after I file my retaliation complaint?
After conducting a neutral and objective investigation, the WSHRC will issue a finding of “reasonable cause” to believe that retaliation occurred, or “no reasonable cause” to believe that retaliation occurred. In addition, a case may settle with some relief to the complainant prior to a full investigation.
Q. What types of remedies could I receive if the WSHRC finds that I was retaliated against?
If the WSHRC finds that retaliation occurred, staff will try to resolve your case with the employer and negotiate a resolution in writing. Types of relief can include back pay, reinstatement of title, a letter of recommendation for future employment, and monetary damages. If we are not able to conciliate the case, we will enforce the finding in your case through the Attorney General’s Office using an administrative law process. The administrative law judge (ALJ) can require “restoration of benefits, back pay, and any increases in compensation that would have occurred.” An ALJ can also in impose a civil penalty upon the retaliator of up to $5,000.
Q. Am I entitled to protection if my employer mistakenly believes I filed a whistleblower complaint, and then retaliates against me?
A state employee is entitled to protections if he or she “is perceived by the employer as reporting, whether they did or not.” RCW 42.40.020(9) (a).
Q. Can I file a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the WSHRC if the SAO does not accept my original whistleblower complaint?
No. In order for the WSHRC to investigate a case of alleged whistleblower retaliation, the complainant must either 1) File a case with SAO which initiates an investigation or 2) Contact the WSHRC and allege whistleblower retaliation based on the perception that the employee filed a whistleblower complaint with SAO.
Q. If I have questions, who can I contact for more information?
There are a number of resources available. To discuss a possible whistleblower complaint, you can speak with your agency-designated official (RCW 42.40.020(7)) or the State Auditor’s Office. More information about SAO can be found online at www.sao.wa.gov.
To discuss possible retaliation for filing a whistleblower complaint, please contact the WSHRC, please call 1-800-233-3247.