Frequently Asked Questions About the Whistleblower Protection Code
Who can file
Protection from retaliation
Discipline already begun
Personnel action complaints
Complaining in writing
Where to file
What is retaliation
How to report retaliation
- Who can file a Whistleblower Complaint? Can a citizen file a complaint about rates and be protected from retaliation by City employees?
Answer: The Whistleblower Protection Code encourages City employees to report improper governmental actions and provides recourse if they experience retaliation. Citizens who are not City employees cannot seek protection under this Code, but are encouraged to let the proper authorities know if believe a City code has been violated.
- Why didn't this code protect me from retaliation?
Answer: Like any law, the Whistleblower Code (WPC) does not prevent all misconduct. It does, however, set out rules prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers, and it provides you recourse in case you nevertheless experience retaliation.
- I've just received a notice of discipline. If I file a complaint against my management will that stop the disciplinary proceedings and save my job?
Answer: No. The Whistleblower Protection Code will not protect you from discipline that is in process. It is designed to protect you from retaliation that is a result of your filing a complaint. Similarly, the code specifies that employees who report their own wrongdoings are not protected from discipline.
Employees have other recourse, such as grievance procedures, to protest what they believe to be wrongful disciplinary actions. Please note that employees also have a right to challenge alleged unfair disciplinary actions with the Seattle Civil Service Commission.
- I should have gotten a promotion that was given to someone else. Can I file a whistleblower complaint about this?
Answer: No. The WPC specifically excludes from its scope complaints about personnel actions or actions that an employee simply disagrees with. SMC 4.20.810
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- Why does the brochure say that I should file my complaint in writing? The sexual harassment laws don't require that sexual harassment complaints be made in writing.
Answer: The WPC spells out procedures that include some requirements for timely responses. A paper trail assists in tracking timelines and establishing that the alleged retaliation is indeed a response to the filing of a complaint. A paper trail also establishes that the complaint was made to the proper agency as outlined in the law.
- Where should I file my whistleblower complaint?
Answer: The Code outlines the appropriate agencies that an allegation of improper governmental action should be made to. File your complaint in writing to the agency indicated below:
- Sexual Harassment: Employee's Supervisor, EEO officer, department head, or other City official.
- Employment Discrimination: Seattle Office for Civil Rights.
- Police Misconduct: Police Department Office of Professional Accountability/Internal Investigations Section.
- Judicial Misconduct: Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
- Crimes: The appropriate county Prosecuting Attorney.
- Ethics Code or Election Code violations: SEEC Executive Director.
- All other complaints or if unsure where to report: SEEC Executive Director.
For protection under this law, the report must first be made, in writing, to the appropriate "auditing official" listed above. Except in cases of emergency, employees should wait at least thirty days after making a written report to the appropriate auditing official before reporting to anyone else. If an employee believes, in good faith, that substantial damage to persons or property will result if the complaint is made to the official indicated above, the complaint may be reported to any City or other government official or to a member of the public. Employees are prohibited from reporting privileged information that by law cannot be disclosed to the public.SMC 4.20.810
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- Will my name be kept secret?
Answer: Yes, the identity of the whistleblower will be kept confidential to the extent allowed by law. If the case goes to hearing, the auditing official may be required to reveal names. SMC 4.20.820
- I was transferred to a lousy work site after I complained. Is this retaliation?
Answer: What you described may be retaliation. Whether it is retaliation will be determined after an investigation which gathers all the available facts.
Retaliation includes but is not limited to: denial of adequate staff to perform duties; frequent staff changes; frequent and undesirable office changes; refusal to assign meaningful work; unsubstantiated letters of reprimand or unsatisfactory performance evaluations; demotion, reduction in pay; denial of promotion; transfer or reassignment; suspension or dismissal; or other unwarranted disciplinary action. SMC 4.20.850
Employees also have a right to challenge alleged unfair disciplinary actions with the Seattle Civil Service Commission.
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- How do I report that I've been retaliated against?
Answer: Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for reporting improper governmental actions have the right to ask the Mayor's Office for relief. To do this, the employee must within 30 days of the alleged retaliation deliver a written statement to the Mayor's Office, specifying the alleged retaliation and the requested relief.
The Mayor will forward the complaint to the appropriate department head unless the employee alleges in the complaint that the department head may be involved in the alleged retaliatory act. The Mayor or the department head has 30 days in which to respond. If the employee does not like the response, the employee has the right--within the 15 days of receiving the response or 45 days after delivering the written complaint, whichever occurs first--to ask the Mayor's Office for a hearing before a State Administrative Law Judge. SMC 4.20.860
At the hearing, the employee must prove by a preponderance of evidence (more likely than not) that unfair treatment resulted from the employee's whistleblower activity. If this is found to be true, the judge may grant reinstatement, with or without back pay. The judge may also order other actions to help the employee return to work and to see that no further retaliation occurs. The judge may also fine the person who retaliated up to $3,000 and recommend that the City suspend or dismiss that person. Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 42.41.040 The judge may also award costs and reasonable attorney's fees to the winning party. RCW 34.12.039
For more information, see the full Whistleblower Protection Code at SMC 4.20.800 thru 4.20.860 on the City Clerk's web site, or contact the SEEC.
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