Chapter 3.14
WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION Revised 1/17

Sections:

3.14.010    Definitions for the Purpose of Chapter 3.14. Revised 1/17

3.14.020    Whistleblower Policy – Purpose. Revised 1/17

3.14.030    Reporting Improper Governmental Action – Employee Protection. Revised 1/17

3.14.040    Reporting Procedures. Revised 1/17

Cross-Reference:    Chapter 42.41 RCW

3.14.010 Definitions for the Purpose of Chapter 3.14. Revised 1/17

A.    "Improper governmental action" means any action or proposed action by a County officer or employee that is undertaken in the office or which is related to an employee's performance of his or her official duties, and

1.    Violates any state or federal law or County ordinance; or

2.    Constitutes an abuse of authority; or

3.    Creates a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety; or

4.    Results in a gross waste of public funds.

"Improper governmental action" excludes personnel actions, including but not limited to: employee grievances, complaints, appointments, promotions, transfers, assignments, reassignments, reinstatements, restorations, re-employments, performance evaluations, reductions in pay, dismissals, suspensions, demotions, alleged violations of Civil Service laws, alleged violations of Title 3 PCC, alleged violations of the Pierce County Administrative Guidelines for the Career Service, or alleged violations of agreements with labor organizations under collective bargaining. Complaints pertaining to such alleged violations should be addressed according to the applicable complaint processes for those matters. A properly authorized County program or activity does not become an "improper governmental action" because an employee or auditing official dissents from the County policy or considers the expenditures unwise.

B.    "Retaliatory action" means any unwarranted adverse change in a County employee's employment status, or the terms and conditions of employment including denial of adequate staff to perform duties, frequent staff changes, frequent and undesirable office changes, refusal to assign meaningful work, unwarranted and unsubstantiated letters of reprimand or unsatisfactory performance evaluations, demotion, transfer, reassignment, reduction in pay, denial of promotion, suspension, dismissal, or any other disciplinary action taken on account of, or with motivation from the employee's action protected under Section 3.14.030.

C.    "Emergency" means a circumstance that if not immediately changed may cause damage to person or property.

(Ord. 2016-84 § 1 (part), 2016; Ord. 2008-106s § 1 (part), 2008; Ord. 98-123 § 1 (part), 1998; Ord. 93-12 § 1 (part), 1993)

3.14.020 Whistleblower Policy – Purpose. Revised 1/17

Unless prohibited by law, County employees are encouraged to report improper governmental action in good faith in accordance with the procedures set forth in this Chapter to the Pierce County Human Resources Director, the Prosecuting Attorney, the County Council, the Pierce County Executive, the Pierce County Ethics Commission, or the Pierce County Sheriff.

These entities shall forward the complaint to the Pierce County Human Resources Director for evaluation and action as appropriate. Reports of improper governmental action may also be made to the Tacoma Police Department, or the State Auditor for allegations of violations of City of Tacoma laws or State statute as appropriate. To assist such reporting, PCC 3.14.030 provides County employees protection from interference and retaliatory action, for reporting and cooperating in the investigation, and/or prosecution of improper governmental action in accordance with this Chapter. (Ord. 2016-84 § 1 (part), 2016; Ord. 2008-106s § 1 (part), 2008; Ord. 2004-7s § 2 (part), 2004; Ord. 98-123 § 1 (part), 1998; Ord. 93-12 § 1 (part), 1993)

3.14.030 Reporting Improper Governmental Action – Employee Protection. Revised 1/17

A.    Every County officer or employee shall have the right to report, in good faith in accordance with the procedures set forth in this Chapter, information concerning improper governmental action. Provided, however, that except in the case of an emergency, an employee shall submit a written report to the Pierce County Human Resources Director, or one of the entities listed in Section 3.14.020, before an employee provides information about an improper governmental action to a person or entity not listed in Section 3.14.020. No emergency exists under this subsection where prompt attention and reporting by the employee could have avoided the perceived need to report immediately to a person not listed in Section 3.14.020. An employee who fails to make a good faith attempt to follow this policy shall not receive the protections of this Chapter.

B.    The Pierce County Human Resources Director shall promulgate procedures for reporting improper governmental action to Pierce County Officials and shall cause a copy of the procedures along with a summary of the protections against retaliatory action to be permanently posted so that all employees will have reasonable access to them. A copy of the same shall be made available to any employee upon request.

C.    Limitations. This Section does not authorize a County officer or employee to report information that is subject to an applicable privilege against disclosure by law (e.g., RCW 5.60.060, Privileged Communications), unless lawfully waived, or to make disclosure where prohibited by law. An employee's reporting of his or her own improper action does not grant an employee immunity from discipline or termination insofar as his or her improper action would be cause for discipline. Employees shall elect which complaint process applies and shall not submit duplicative complaints. If a duplicate complaint is filed with another agency, Pierce County may decline to investigate the complaint filed under this Chapter.

D.    Retaliatory Action Prohibited. It is unlawful for any County official or employee to take retaliatory action against an employee because he or she (or another acting pursuant to his or her request):

1.    Provided information in good faith in accordance with the provisions of this Chapter that an improper governmental action occurred; or

2.    Cooperated in a lawful investigation related to improper governmental action; or

3.    Testified in a proceeding or prosecution arising out of a complaint of improper governmental action.

E.    The identity of any person filing a complaint under this Chapter shall be treated as confidential to the extent possible under law unless the employee authorizes the disclosure of his or her identity in writing.

F.    No County officer or employee shall use his or her official authority or influence, directly or indirectly, to threaten, intimidate or coerce an employee for the purpose of interfering with that employee's right to disclose information concerning an improper governmental action in accordance with the provisions of this Chapter.

G.    Penalty. Any County officer, or employee who shall engage in retaliatory action is subject to discipline up to and including suspension without pay, demotion, or discharge in addition to any penalties which might imposed by an administrative law judge pursuant to state law.

H.    If a County officer or employee feels that he or she has been retaliated against for reporting improper governmental action, he or she shall file written notice with the Human Resources Director in accord with Chapter 44, Washington Laws, 1992 (Chapter 42.41 RCW) and as stipulated in Section 3.14.040. Upon receipt of such report, the Human Resources Director shall cause an appropriate response to be filed in accord with Chapter 44, Washington Laws, 1992.

(Ord. 2016-84 § 1 (part), 2016; Ord. 2008-106s § 1 (part), 2008; Ord. 2004-7s § 2 (part), 2004; Ord. 98-123 § 1 (part), 1998; Ord. 93-12 § 1 (part), 1993)

3.14.040 Reporting Procedures. Revised 1/17

Unless prohibited by law and except in cases of emergency, the following procedures shall be followed:

A.    Reporting Improper Governmental Action. If an employee desires to file a complaint within Pierce County Government, the complaint shall be submitted in writing on the appropriate complaint form to the Pierce County Human Resources Director or other County entity listed in PCC 3.14.020. Such complaint form may be submitted either in person or by mail, may be signed or unsigned, and shall specify the inappropriate governmental action alleged. Complaint forms shall be provided by the Human Resources Department and shall be available through the Human Resources Department, the office of the County Executive, and at each departmental timekeeper location. Forms shall be provided via U.S. Mail from the Human Resources Department upon the request of the employee.

1.    Where the employee reasonably believes the improper governmental action involves the Human Resources Director, the employee may submit the complaint form directly to the County Executive.

2.    The Human Resources Director or County Executive, as the case may be, shall take prompt action to determine if a prima facie complaint has been appropriately filed and, if so, to investigate or to cause an investigation into the complaint to be initiated by referring the complaint to the appropriate authority.

3.    The Pierce County authority to whom the complaint of improper governmental action was referred shall ensure that the complainant is sent a timely response.

B.    Reporting Retaliatory Action.

1.    An employee alleging retaliatory action for exercising their rights under this Chapter must file a written complaint with the Pierce County Human Resources Director or Pierce County Executive, if the complaint involves the Pierce County Human Resources Director. The written complaint may be in the form of a letter or memorandum and:

a.    Must specify the alleged retaliatory action; and

b.    Must specify the relief requested; and

c.    Not later than 30 calendar days after the occurrence of the alleged retaliatory action, the complaint must be delivered to the Human Resources Director or to the Pierce County Executive if the complaint involves the Pierce County Human Resources Director.

2.    Pursuant to RCW 42.41.040(3), the County must respond to the charge of retaliation within 30 calendar days after receipt of the charge and request for relief, unless additional time is agreed to by the employee.

3.    Upon receipt of either the response from the County or after the last day upon which the County could respond, the employee may request a hearing to establish that a retaliatory action occurred and to obtain appropriate relief as defined in RCW 42.41.040. The request for a hearing shall be delivered to the Human Resources Director within 15 calendar days of delivery of the response from the County or within 15 calendar days of the last day on which the County could respond.

4.    Within five working days of receipt of the request for a hearing, the County shall apply to the State Office of Administrative Hearings under the provisions of RCW 42.41.040(5). The hearing and determination therefrom shall comply with the provisions of RCW 42.41.040(6) through (9).

(Ord. 2016-84 § 1 (part), 2016; Ord. 2010-14 § 1 (part), 2010)