Whistleblower Program Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Whistleblower Act?
What is the Whistleblower Program?
The Whistleblower Act, enacted by the Washington State Legislature in 1982, enshrined in RCW 42.40, and amended most recently in 2017, provides an avenue for state employees to report suspected improper governmental action.
The law makes retaliation against people whose assertions result in a whistleblower investigation unlawful, and authorizes remedies should it occur. The State Auditor’s Office (SAO) is solely responsible for investigating and reporting on assertions of improper governmental action in state government.
How to file a complaint with the Whistleblower program
You may file a complaint using our online form, return a filled out printable form, or submit the form by email.
Printed forms must be sent to SAO at this address:
Washington State Auditor’s Office
ATTN: State Employee Whistleblower Program
P.O. Box 40031
Olympia, WA 98504-0031
Reports may also be filed with a public official or designee, defined as someone who is in a position to pass the assertion on to SAO and act with discretion and in a non-retaliatory fashion. A list of whistleblower designees is available.
What is defined as improper governmental action?
Improper governmental action is defined as any action by an employee undertaken in the performance of the employee’s official duties which:
- Is in violation of federal or state law or rule, if the violation is not merely technical or of a minimum nature.
- Is a gross waste of public funds or resources.
- Is of substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.
- Is gross mismanagement.
- Prevents dissemination of scientific opinion or alters technical findings.
- Violates the Administrative Procedure Act.
What are the most common assertions of improper governmental action that are referred to the whistleblower program?
- Failing to competitively bid contracts.
- Conducting union business on state time.
- Using a job position for special privileges.
- Using state time for personal reasons.
How do you document improper governmental actions?
Reports of improper governmental action should include the following information:
- A detailed description of the alleged improper governmental action.
- The name of the employee(s) involved.
- The agency, division, and location where the action(s) occurred.
- Date(s) of when the action(s) occurred.
- If you know it, the specific law or rule that has been violated.
Supplying detailed information contributes to a more efficient investigation. Avoid generalizations such as “Jane is always wasting public resources.” By providing specific details about how and when public resources are being wasted, whistleblowers will help focus the investigation. For example, “Bob used his state computer to keep accounting records for his home business on state time. This has been going on for a year.”
Who can file a Whistleblower report?
Any current Washington state employee may report a suspected improper governmental action to SAO. This includes temporary employees, classified and exempt civil service employees, and elected officials.
The Local Government Whistleblower Act requires each local government to have a policy in place that establishes an appropriate person to receive and investigate reports of improper governmental action. If the local government has failed to follow state law by not establishing a whistleblower policy, the whistleblower can submit a report to a county prosecutor or employee. If the local government hasn’t established a policy and if an employee of the county prosecutor’s office is named as the subject of improper governmental action, the employee may file a report with SAO.
Is there a specific time frame in which to report improper governmental actions?
Assertions of improper governmental action must be reported to SAO within one year of the alleged improper governmental action.
If you file a complaint with the Whistleblower program, will your identity be kept confidential?
Yes. The identity of any state employee who files a whistleblower complaint will be kept confidential. The state employee may sign a written waiver or acknowledge their identity in a claim against the state for retaliation, in turn revoking anonymity.
Can you file a complaint anonymously?
Yes. Assertions of improper governmental action may be filed anonymously.
Can SAO investigate personnel matters?
No. The Whistleblower Act specifically states that improper governmental action does not include personnel matters, for which other remedies exist. These types of actions include, but are not limited to, employee grievances, complaints, appointments, promotions, transfers, assignments, reassignments, reinstatements, performance evaluations, reductions in pay, dismissals, suspensions, demotions, violations of state civil service laws, labor agreement violations, reprimands or other disciplinary actions.
The following government agencies and labor organizations may assist state employees in dealing with personnel matters:
|Washington State Personnel Resources Board |
|Conducts hearings and makes decisions to resolve state employee appeals and to assure the fair and efficient administration of the civil service laws and rules. Employees who are members of a union should contact their collective bargaining unit.|
|Washington State Human Rights Commission |
Olympia: 1-800-233-3247 TTY: 1-800-300-7525
|Discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status, age or disability. Sexual harassment. Whistleblower workplace reprisal or retaliatory action.|
|Public Employment Relations Commission |
|Unfair labor practices. Interference with rights to form or join employee labor organizations and rights to bargain collectively.|
Can contractors of the state file an assertion with the Whistleblower Program?
No. Only current state employees may file with the Whistleblower Program. Contractors may report concerns about the handling of public funds to SAO’s Citizen Hotline at 866-902-3900, or online.
What are the procedures for filing complaints against judicial branch employees?
Whistleblower assertions against judicial officers of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, including judges and court commissioners, are under the jurisdiction of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Assertions can be filed with the Commission, which has authority to investigate complaints, decide the merits of the allegations, and impose appropriate sanctions and remedies. Assertions against judicial branch employees of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Office of Civil Legal Aid, the Office of Public Defense, and the Washington State Library who are not judicial officers can be filed with SAO.
What to do after filing a report
Within 15 working days of filing a complaint you will be contacted in writing by SAO. If you are told an investigation will be initiated into your assertion of improper governmental action, we recommend you not discuss the investigation with others, including family, friends or coworkers. Unneeded discussions could jeopardize your confidentiality and hamper the investigation.
What to do if you feel have been retaliated against?
SAO has no authority to investigate claims of retaliation against whistleblowers.
A retaliatory action is any adverse change that affects your employment. Retaliation can take many forms, such as frequent job changes, office changes, unwarranted letters of reprimand, or unsatisfactory performance evaluations. State law provides remedies for whistleblowers, or anyone who provides information during a whistleblower investigation, who have been retaliated against.
Claims regarding retaliatory actions must be filed with the State Human Rights Commission. You may also wish to contact a private attorney for legal advice. More information is available at the Human Rights Commission’s website.
For more questions concerning the Whistleblower Program, please contact a Whistleblower employee:
What if the alleged improper action was committed by an SAO employee?
If you wish to file an assertion of improper governmental action concerning SAO, you may do so with the State Attorney General’s Office, per state law.
Please mark any Whistleblower correspondence “Confidential.”
Send it to Patricia D. Todd
Americans with Disabilities
In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, our communications department will provide alternative formats of this document.
Please email Kathleen.Cooper@sao.wa.gov for those materials.