Washington State Whistleblower Laws

Whistleblower laws as they apply to the state of Washington

A Summary of Washington Whistleblower Laws

Washington is an employment-at-will state. This means employees can be discharged from work for any reason or no reason. However, there are a few exceptions to this doctrine that are used to protect employees from wrongful retaliation. These exceptions include common law protections and statutory protections. Statutory protections are laws that are enacted by the state’s legislature to address specific subject areas, e.g., workers’ compensation, whereas common law protections are laws that are created by courts to address subject areas that are not covered by enacted laws.

This is a summary of Washington Whistleblower Laws, make sure to check out the Federal Whistleblower Laws as well.

Whistleblower Rights in Washington State

Common Law Protections for Whistleblowers in Washington State

Washington has a public policy that is applied as an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. Therefore, it is illegal for employers to discharge an employee for reasons that violate public policy. To determine whether an employee is eligible for protection under the state’s public policy, the courts usually rely on statutory protections, constitutional provisions, and prior judicial opinions. For example, if a statute endorses a worker’s right to collect a wage not less than the minimum wage, an employer who discharges an employee in retaliation for exercising such a right may be found guilty of violating public policy. Generally, Washington protects employees who engage in the following activities from wrongful discharge:

  • Refusing to participate in illegal activities.
  • Exercising a legal right or privilege.
  • Reporting misconduct by the employer.
  • Performing a public duty.

To be eligible for protection under public policy, aggrieved employees should establish the following:

  • A clear public policy was violated.
  • Discouraging the conduct by the employee would violate public policy.
  • The employee was terminated because of conduct related to public policy.

Statutory Protections for Whistleblowers in Washington

State Employee Whistleblower Protection

No employee with official authority is allowed to or attempt to intimidate, threaten, coerce, command, or influence an individual with the aim of interfering with the individual’s right to:

  • Disclose information concerning improper governmental action to the auditor or public official.
  • Identify rules warranting review or provide information to the rules review committee.

Under this statute, disclosure of information that is prohibited by law is unauthorized, unless such information is needed to substantiate a whistleblower’s complaint. Wash. Rev. Code § 42.40.030.

Unfair Practices

It is against the law for anyone to discharge, expel or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Opposing discriminatory practices that are forbidden under this statute.
  • Filing a charge under this statute.
  • Testifying or assisting in a proceeding under this statute.

Also, no employer, employment agency, labor union, government agency, government manager, or government supervisor is allowed to discharge or in any way retaliate against a person assisting with an office of fraud and accountability investigation, unless the person has provided false information to the office.

Wash. Rev. Code § 49.60.210.

Hospital Patients

It is against the law to discharge, expel or in any way discriminate against a state employee in retaliation for reporting the abuse or neglect of a state hospital patient to a law enforcement agency or department. Wash. Rev. Code § 70.124.060.

Abuse of Vulnerable Adults

It is against the law to in any way retaliate against an employee or contractor for disclosing abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect of a vulnerable adult who is receiving care in a facility or a home setting to the department of health. Wash. Rev. Code § 74.34.180.

Domestic Violence Leave

Employers are not allowed to discharge, threaten, discipline, alter terms of employment, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Exercising a right under this statute.
  • Filing a complaint or attempting to file a complaint under this statute.
  • Participating or assisting another employee in exercising rights under this statute.

Under this statute, employees have a right to take leave with or without pay to, among other things, seek legal enforcement assistance to ensure the health and safety of the employee or employee’s family members, seek treatment for injuries caused by domestic issues, or assist a family member in obtaining, services from a domestic violence shelter or other social services relief program.

Wash. Rev. Code § 49.76.030.

Hazardous Substances

Employers are not allowed to discharge, discipline, penalize, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for exercising a right under this statute. Under this statute, employees have a right to request a copy of a workplace survey or a material safety data sheet. Wash. Rev. Code § 49.70.110.

Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act

It is illegal to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any way discriminate against an employee, contractor, or agent in retaliation for reporting a violation of the Washington Medicaid False Claims Act or assisting in an action under this act. Wash. Rev. Code § 74.66.090.

Minimum Wage

Employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint concerning unpaid wages or a violation of this statute to the employer, director, or authorized representatives.
  • Instituting or causing the institution of a proceeding under this statute.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding under this statute.

Wash. Rev. Code § 49.46.100(2).

Farm Labor Contractors

No farm labor contractor or agricultural employer is allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Making a claim concerning compensation for the employee’s personal services.
  • Instituting or causing the institution of a proceeding under this statute.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding under this statute.
  • Discussing or consulting with anyone about the employee’s rights under this statute.

Wash. Rev. Code § 19.30.190.

Nursing Homes

No licensee is allowed to in any way discriminate against a patient or employee in retaliation for initiating or participating in a proceeding under this statute. Wash. Rev. Code § 18.51.220.

Washington Industrial Safety And Health Act

No person is allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a complaint under this statute.
  • Instituting or causing the institution of a proceeding under this statute.
  • Testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding under this statute.
  • Exercising a right under this statute on behalf of himself, herself, or others.

Wash. Rev. Code § 49.17.160(1).

Workers’ Compensation

Employers are not allowed to discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for:

  • Filing a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Informing the employer of the intention to file a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Exercising a right afforded by this statute.

Wash. Rev. Code § 51.48.025(1).

Whistleblower Retaliation Claims in Washington

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, retaliation lawsuits should be filed within 3 years of the retaliatory action.

Unfair Practices

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Washington Human Rights Commission (HRC) within 6 months of the retaliatory action.

Hazardous Substances

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) within 30 days of the retaliatory action.

Workers’ Compensation

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) within 90 days of the retaliatory action. If the department determines that retaliation did not occur, the aggrieved employee can opt to file a lawsuit in the appropriate court.

Domestic Violence Leave

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the director of labor and industries.

Farm Labor Contractors

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the director of labor and industries. Aggrieved employees can also choose to file a lawsuit, however, this should be done within 3 years of the retaliatory action.

Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act

Lawsuits under this act should be filed within 3 years of the retaliatory action.

Washington Industrial Safety And Health Act

Complaints under this statute should be filed with the director of labor and industry within 30 days of the retaliatory action.

Whistleblower Hotlines in Washington

To file a complaint with the Washington Human Rights Commission, call 1-800-233-3247.

To file a complaint with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, call 360-902-6088 or 1-800-423-7233.

Whistleblower Retaliation and Violation Claims in Washington

Unless stated otherwise by a statute, employers who carry out unlawful retaliation against an employee or individual may be liable to the aggrieved employee or individual for a combination or any of the following remedies:

  • Reinstatement with same seniority status.
  • Back pay.
  • Interest on back pay.
  • Restoration of benefits.
  • Compensation for special damages, including litigation costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
  • Plus any other appropriate relief.

Penalties For Certain Statutes

Employers who violate the State Employee Whistleblower Protection statute, Unfair Practices statute, Hospital Patients statute, or Abuse of Vulnerable Adults statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Cease and desist.
  • Hiring, reinstatement, or promotion with or without back pay.
  • Admission or restoration to full membership rights in any respondent organization.
  • Restoration of benefits, back pay, and any increases in compensation that would have occurred if not for the retaliation, with interest.
  • Damages for humiliation and mental suffering not exceeding $20,000.
  • Plus any other appropriate relief.

In addition, the retaliator may receive the following punishments:

  • A civil penalty not exceeding $5,000.
  • Suspension for up to 30 days without pay.
  • The inclusion of the letter of reprimand in the retaliator’s personnel file.

Wash. Rev. Code § 49.60.250.

Domestic Violence Leave

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Actual damages.
  • Litigation costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees.

In addition, a violator may be found guilty of an infraction and upon the order of the director of labor, he or she may be liable for a fine of up to $500 and a fine of up to $1000 for each subsequent infraction committed within three years of a previous infraction. The director may also order a violator to reinstate the aggrieved employee to the employee’s former job position or equivalent position.

Farm Labor Contractors

Persons who violate this statute may be found guilty of a misdemeanor which is punishable by a fine not exceeding $1000 or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 6 months, or both. In addition, the director of labor may assess against any person who violates this statute a civil penalty not exceeding $1000 per violation.

Also, in case the aggrieved employee brings an action against the violator, the court may award:

  • Reasonable attorney’s fees.
  • Costs and disbursement.
  • Actual damages, or statutory damages of five hundred dollars per plaintiff per violation, whichever is greater.

Hazardous Substances

Aggrieved employees under this statute can bring an action against the employer to compel compliance under this statute. The court may award litigation costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees and expert witness fees to the prevailing party.

Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act

Violators of this act may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Reinstatement with same seniority status.
  • Two times the amount of back pay.
  • Interest on back pay.
  • Compensation for special damages, including litigation costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
  • Plus any other appropriate relief.

Minimum Wage

Employers who violate this statute may be found guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

Nursing Homes

Licensees who violate this statute may be liable for a civil penalty not exceeding $3000.

Washington Industrial Safety And Health Act

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Rehiring or reinstatement to the employee’s former position with back pay.
  • Plus any other appropriate relief.

Workers’ Compensation

Employers who violate this statute may be liable to the aggrieved employee for:

  • Rehiring or reinstatement to the employee’s former position with back pay.
  • Injunctive relief to restrain the violation.
  • Plus any other appropriate relief.

More Washington Laws

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