First, it is important to have comprehensive nondiscrimination policies, to enforce them, to publicize them, to let employees know them, and to train first line supervisors on them. Make sure your policy includes retaliation and includes whistleblower retaliation. Have clear policies and make sure your actual practices are consistent with those policies.
Second, if someone brings you a complaint or grievance, take it seriously, investigate it internally, and take prompt and objective action.
Third, make sure all management, including first line supervisors, know that they cannot harass or retaliate against employees because they complain or advocate for their rights, or serve as a witness on someone else’s case.
Fourth, evaluate and provide feedback to employees frequently and honestly. We see lots of cases where a person says, “I got great performance evaluations for years, until I complained, then my ratings went down.” We then interview the supervisor, who says, “His performance was always bad.”
Fifth, educate yourselves and your management staff on the Washington Law Against Discrimination. It is broader than federal civil rights law.
Sixth, communication with employees is key. Many times employees speculate that an employer's action is discriminatory or retaliatory because they have been given no other explanation. What we often see is an employer having to hire an attorney to defend itself against a discrimination or whistleblower retaliation complaint because it failed to simply talk to an employee and provide insight into its decision making.
Seventh, alternative dispute resolution is a good thing. That means not just saying you’re civil and treat everybody well, but really doing so.
Eighth, ask for help before you run into trouble. We can help. But not if we don’t know you want or need it.
Ninth, if a whistleblower retaliation complaint is filed against your agency, take the allegation seriously. During the investigation, be honest with us. For example, don’t deny knowledge of the identity of the whistleblower if you really know who the person is.
Tenth, reducing whistleblower retaliation within the agency will also reduce discrimination and retaliation against others who assert their rights.
Eleventh, document your actions and the actions of your employees. Make sure you have a business reason for these actions, and that the actions are done for a non-retaliatory reason.
Twelfth, make sure employees have options. An agency with an “open-door” management style is probably less likely to have a high number of whistleblower retaliation complaints.
Thirteenth, whistleblowers have two years in which to file a whistleblower retaliation complaint. RCW 49.60.230(2). Make sure to keep comprehensive records and files.
Fourteenth, remember that state agencies that are more diverse and welcoming are more successful. These agencies are often more productive and have higher team morale than agencies in which open discussion and feedback is silenced.