Some legislators want you to tell on your employer

By MARK HARMSWORTH  | 
Apr 6, 2020
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During the 2020 legislative session, House Bill 1965 was introduced to increase financial penalties on employers due to employee-originated reporting on violations of workplace protections. At face value, this appears sensible, but a deeper dive into the bill shows there are significant problems that hurt both the employee and employer.

Under current law, an employee can file a complaint against their employer with Labor and Industries (L&I) for wage payment issues, safety or health standard violations, discrimination and other reasons. Labor and Industries pursues these complaints, often with vigor, and often favors the party which submitted the complaint.

House Bill 1965 would also allow the employee to designate a representative organization to pursue the complaint on their behalf – such as a union.

The key difference between current law and the changes that HB 1965 would bring is the use of state resources to pursue claims and the additional of compensatory damages.

While the right of an employee to bring action against an employer that is failing to follow the rules should be protected, there also need to be protections for employers.  It is not uncommon for frivolous claims to be brought by disgruntled employees who, convinced by their lawyers, feel they have a case. Current law provides ample protections for those employee and employer protections. HB 1965 would create a new avenue for organized groups to bring claims, using state resources, with almost no penalty for doing so in the case of a false or un-justified claim.

HB 1965 would increase costs for the employer with an unnecessary increase in liability insurance costs, which could result in fewer available jobs and reductions in employee salaries.

While HB 1965 did not pass during the 2020 session, it did make it through the House and is likely to be reintroduced in 2021. Washington Policy Center will bring you updates as they happen.