This post was originally made July 27th, 2015.

“Keep your head down and just grind it out,” you might be thinking.  “Oh, this can’t be discrimination, society is way past that.”  “My boss keeps making unwanted passes at me and I’d report him, but I don’t want to get fired.”  

The workplace is full of complex and stressful factors that create unique and challenging situations for anyone working in Washington State.  Fast-paced environments, approaching deadlines, high expectations; as if life was not already complicated enough.

However, many employer-created situations arise in the workplace that employees should not have to deal with, and Washington and federal law properly reflects this notion.  Although Washington law does not protect against the “mean boss,” there are numerous requirements of Washington employers.  Below are a few practices that are prohibited by Washington and federal law.

Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), RCW 49.60, protects employees from discrimination in the workplace based on such characteristics as race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and several others.  Also Title VII of the United States Code as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act provides similar protections for employees against discrimination.  If you feel that you are being discriminated against due to a characteristic such as one of these, you may have a state and/or federal law claim.

Medical Leave
Federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and its Washington counterpart, the Washington State Family Leave Act (“WFLA”) protect workers and allow them to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave every year.  If your employer is preventing you from taking this leave, or has taken adverse action against you subsequent to your leave, you may have a claim under state and federal law.

Withholding Wages
Employers often try to deduct or withhold wages from an employee for varying reasons.  However, under Washington law, RCW 59.52, and under the Federal Labor Standards Act, employers are limited in the types of deductions and withholdings that they can make.  As such, if your employer is withholding or deducting wages, you may have a state or federal law claim, and in some instances be able to collect double what the attorney owes you, plus attorneys fees.

If you feel that your employer is engaging in illegal behavior against you in the workplace, below are a few things that you can do to protect yourself:

  1. Document Everything
    When faced with possible discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination or other issues at work, the employee should always keep a detailed and accurate record of all action taken by the employer.  Keeping a journal of your workplace interactions with your employer can be very helpful when building an employment case.
  2. Report Suspected Illegal Activity
    Often employees turn a blind eye to unethical or illegal activity in the workplace because they fear that they will lose their job.  However, many employment law statutes have anti-retaliation built into their schemes.  As such, employees who report discrimination, health and safety, false claims to the government, and other types of wrongful behavior are protected under state and federal law.  As such, many statutes give extra protection for those employees who report illegal behavior.  Employees in this situation should consult an attorney to see if they would receive this type of anti-retaliation provision for reporting such workplace misconduct.
  3. Communicate in Writing
    Employment disputes often arise out of spoken conversations between employers and employees.  These spoken words are frequently twisted around and changed by the employer, with no evidence to demonstrate what was said.  When dealing with a workplace dispute, employees should try to conduct as much communication in writing as possible.  Further, even if a conversation is held orally, it is imperative to later follow up in writing such as with an email, reiterating what was said.  Even a simple message stating, “I just want to confirm what was said in our meeting today, July 15, 2015…”  These techniques can drastically help you build an employment case later, if necessary.
  4. Request Your Employment File
    Under RCW 49.12, employees (and former employees) have the right to inspect their personnel file that is kept on file by the employer.  Washington law also encourages employers operating within the state to keep employment records.  WAC 296-126-050.  Further, the employer must make the personnel file available within a reasonable period of time after the employee’s request.  RCW 49.12.250.  If an employee requests to have a copy of the employment file, one should be advised, that the employer only has to have it available for inspection.  This means that some employers will only let employees inspect the file, but not take pictures or make copies.  As such, if an employee goes to inspect their file, they should go armed with a camera, money for possible copy charges, and even a notebook to take verbatim notes if necessary.
  5. Request Your Effective Date and Reason for Termination
    Washington law also requires that within ten (10) days of a request, an employer is required to provide a letter stating the (1) effective date; and (2) the reason for termination.  WAC 296-126-050 (3).  This can be an effective tool for locking the employer into an alleged reason for termination.  As such, upon termination, an employee should make a written request for such a letter.
  6. Make a Chronology or Timeline
    Timing is everything, especially in employment law.  Knowing when important events took place is crucial to making an effective employment case.  As such, it is very important for any employee thinking about bringing a case to make a chronology of important events, such as when the person was hired, when they were the target of discriminatory remarks, when they received a particular email, when they were reprimanded etc.  Keeping records of important events is imperative when building an employment case.
  7. Seek Counsel and Be Honest and Open
    Finally, if an employee feels that he or she is a victim of illegal conduct in the workplace, they should call an employment attorney.  Not only do these attorneys have the legal knowledge, but he or she will have the practical skills to help navigate these types of situations.  Once you contact an attorney, make sure to be honest and open, as it is important that your attorney knows everything in order to represent you in a holistic fashion and help you navigate the complex employment situation

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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.