Employment and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination
What are the WSHRC’s jurisdictional criteria?
- Employer has at least 8 employees (does not include religious organizations).
- Signed complaints need to be filed within 6 months of last date of alleged discrimination.
- Housing complaints have one year to be filed.
What are prohibited employment practices?
Under the law, if it is because of a person’s race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status, age (40+), disability, retaliation, sexual orientation/gender identity, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability:
- An EMPLOYER may not: (1) refuse to hire a person, (2) discharge or bar a person from a job, (3) discriminate in compensation or other terms or conditions of employment, (4) print, circulate, or use any discriminatory statement, advertisement, publication, job application form, or make any inquiry in connection with prospective employment that is discriminatory.
- EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES may not: (1) discriminate in classification or referrals for employment, (2) print or circulate any discriminatory statement, advertisement, or publication, or (3) use discriminatory employment application forms, or inquiries made in connection with prospective employment.
Who is protected from employment discrimination?
The law prohibits unfair employment practices because of a person’s:
- Filing a complaint or advocating rights
- Presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability
- Use of a trained dog guide or service animal
- HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C Status
- National Origin
- Marital Status
- Age (40+)
- Sexual Orientation, including Gender Identity
How are complaints filed?
- Intake call or in-person interview: Goes to the Intake Unit to determine jurisdiction, followed by a complaint questionnaire if in the WSHRC ’s jurisdiction.
- Complaint drafted, signed by Complainant, and received by the WSHRC within 6 months of the alleged date of discrimination.
- Complaint assigned to investigator.
When an employer receives notice of a complaint what is its responsibility?
- Send a written response to the charge within 15 days
- Give its position on the alleged unfair action(s)
- Provide relevant documentation
- Provide witness names and contact information.
How is the investigation conducted?
- The WSHRC is a neutral fact-finder – we do not take sides during an investigation. An investigator is assigned to gather evidence to determine if there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation of law has occurred. They may interview witnesses and review documents and records.
- The WSHRC also uses and encourages alternate dispute resolution.
Who has the burden of proof?
- The complainant must provide information that links the alleged harm and his/her protected class status.
- The respondent can provide non-discriminatory reasons for what happened.
- The burden then shifts to the complainant to provide additional information to connect the harm to the protected class.
- The WSHRC always has the burden of proving or disproving discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence.
When an investigation is complete what happens?
- The WSHRC staff makes a recommendation to the Commissioners.
- If the WSHRC finds no discrimination, both parties are contacted with that finding.
- If the WSHRC finds that illegal discrimination has occurred, we first try to bring about a voluntary agreement with the parties to resolve the issues. If these efforts fail, we will consider taking the complaint to a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJ’s can impose substantial penalties.
It is against the law to retaliate?
The law prohibits taking retaliatory, adverse action against:
- A person who has filed a complaint
- A person who has participated in an investigation
- A person who has opposed any practice forbidden by the Law Against Discrimination.
Does the WSHRC respond to inquiries?
- Yes. The WSHRC responds to questions about RCW 49.60 from the public, employers, housing providers, and other institutions.
Does the WSHRC provide education and training programs?
- The WSHRC has a proactive education and training program geared towards eliminating and preventing discrimination.
- Training is provided to the “Respondent” community (employers, landlords, shop owners, etc.) who are interested in understanding and obeying the law.
What is the cost for training?
- The WSHRC conducts free educational and training seminars throughout the State on RCW 49.60.