Encouraging Whistleblowing, Discouraging Retaliation
Posted: December 4th, 2013 under Councilmember Burgess.
This morning my committee passed legislation that encourages and affirms the important role of public employee whistleblowers.
The most important part of the bill moves the investigation of retaliation claims from the Mayor’s office to the independent Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). The current whistleblower code directs an employee to report retaliation to the Mayor’s office, which can then ask the employee’s department—often the original alleged retaliator—to investigate. Shifting the investigatory responsibilities to the independent SEEC strengthens confidentiality protections and the integrity of the investigation.
The legislation changes the definition of a whistleblower to include employees who are perceived to have reported improper governmental activity. It also gives protection from retaliation if they try to report improper action first within their departments rather than the SEEC.
Furthermore, the legislation expands the remedies available to employees should they prove retaliation, including emotional distress damages of up to $20,000. Employees who have submitted a timely and sufficient complaint to the SEEC may also file a civil action in court should their position as a whistleblower lead them to not trust the City’s administrative process.
Public service is a high calling and we must hold ourselves to high standards. By clarifying employee rights, responsibilities and protections, we allow City employees to proudly serve the public interest without fear of retaliation.