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County whistleblower protections strengthened

Summary

Claims of retaliation to be investigated by Ombudsman, not department heads

Story

The King County Council today unanimously voted to strengthen protections for employees who report illegal or improper actions within county government.

“We must protect King County employees who report misconduct or illegal actions from retaliation,” said Council Chair Dow Constantine, prime sponsor of the ordinance. “The recent state audit of King County highlighted problems within individual county departments. By encouraging front-line employees to speak up and report, we can detect and address these problems quickly and decisively.”

The ordinance adopted today strengthens many sections of the County’s existing whistleblower code, expands protections for the reporting of more types of governmental misconduct, and broadens the definition of what is considered a retaliatory action.

Claims of retaliation will now be investigated by the County Ombudsman, instead of by supervisors in the department within which the alleged retaliation occurred.

“We want to encourage our employees to let us know when they see misconduct in county government,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who co-sponsored the legislation. “To do that they need to feel confident that managers will not retaliate against them. This is a step toward a more accountable government.”

Other provisions of the ordinance expand the time that an employee has to make a claim of retaliation from 30 days to six months, and strengthen the Ombudsman’s powers to protect whistleblowers. Employees who report problems to those outside the current list of investigating officials will also now be granted the full protection of the law, even if reports are made directly to King County Councilmembers or to the news media.

Read more about this legislation on the King C ounty C ouncil’s LEGISEAR C H system at http://kingcounty.legistar.com/Legislation.aspx and type in “2009-0346”



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